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May 12, 2010

Generation A - Douglas Coupland

Generation A by Douglas Coupland begins in what I think of as classic Coupland: a selection of twenty-somethings search for meaning in their lives. Five people, spread throughout the world, seemingly unconnected, struggling to come to terms with modern life. 

Then they all get stung by a bee. Which wouldn't be so unusual except that this book is set in a future where the bees have disappeared. 

The set-up is real Science Fiction: no bees, no pollination. Fruit is in short supply, flowers are rare. The world is confused and annoyed by the bees going.

From the initial premise the story moves into a conspiracy plot, which promises much more than it delivers. The five stingees are prodded and poked and scientifically analysed. And then let go.

Up until half way I was enjoying the story, guessing what was going to happen, liking Coupland's witty, zippy language. Then, half way through things, change.

I'm now going to talk about the ending of the book, so SPOILERS. I don't normally give away so much, but in this case I feel it's essential. If you want a summary without spoilers: disappointing. If you want more, carry on...

Half way through the novel the stingees are taken to a remote island which was the site of the last bee hive, and are encouraged to tell each other stories. What follows is a selection of poor, amateur short stories. Which is sort of the point, but still, what a waste of time. The stories are dreamlike and fantastical, without internal consistency. They are not the sort of stories that you would expect to see published in any short story magazine. Which seems such a waste. I get what Coupland is trying to do, trying to show the links between the characters as they riff off each other. But... argghh... it's rubbish.

Then the ending is even more of a let down. It's a one line joke; the entire last half of the novel. A joke that didn't make me laugh. A terrible, clich├ęd, ridiculous joke. When Coupland can write such an uplifting, wonderful novel as Microserfs, illuminating the very nature of humanity, what is he doing writing this crap? It's as though he got bored half way through and dashed off any old rubbish.

Immensely disappointing.


Gah. Copeland has always been an extremely frustrating writer. Even as his proficiency increases, his talent diminishes.

After Shampoo Planet - which was wildly uneven, and had the stupid short story thing as a major source of filler - I really thought he had an amazing amount of talent, and once he got the 'first book legs' under him, he'd be an amazing talent. He followed it up with Microserfs, which I totally didn't like, and then he followed with Life After God, which I can't even really remember, and then came that terrible, terrible, terrible collection of short stories (Ok, Doug, We get it: You like short stories! But you can't write them! And your novel about the Deadheads didn't pan out.)

I just gave up on him after that.