The latest novel from Douglas Coupland opens with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut. Coupland takes the quote from the commencement address Vonnegut gave to the 1994 graduating class at Syracuse University.
“Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favors when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago.”
Fifteen years later and Vonnegut was right. The name didn’t stick, but Vonnegut’s claims were spot on. All the claims about triumphs and failures have come true since 1994. Certainly the part about jobs was true. The less predictive elements about jobs are true again at the end of the first decade of the third millennium. A curious anecdote: most people I talk to directly attribute the title “Generation X” to Douglas Coupland and his first novel of the same name. Sure, Billy Idol’s punk band had the name fifteen before the novel, but it didn’t stick. No, it’s Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture that fixed the label.
Coupland has checked in on his generation many times in the intervening years. Microserfs gives his vision of us working in the venture-capital driven days of the first dotcom boom of the early 90s. JPod chronicles the everyday lives of a group of six GenXers and Millennials working at a video game company in 2005. The protagonists are grouped together in a pod of cubicles, all their last names beginning with “J”. These short one- and two-sentence summaries do not do justice to the aptitude Coupland has with recognizing the pulse of time and culture on people. I want to use the adjective “uncanny” and then find myself consumed with uncomfortable laughter at the irony of that description. Coupland does that to me. There has not been a book of his that I have not thoroughly enjoyed. I cannot wait to read his latest.
From the back cover:
Generation A is set in the near future in a world where bees are extinct, until five unconnected people all around the world — in the United States, Canada, France, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka — are all stung. Their shared experience unites them in ways they never could have imagined.
Generation A mirrors Coupland’s debut novel, 1991’s Generation X. It explores new ways of storytelling in a digital world. Like much of Coupland’s writing, it occupies the perplexing hinterland between optimism about the future and everyday apocalyptic paranoia. imaginative, inventive, and fantastically entertaining, Generation A is his most ambitious work to date.