Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Review: jPod

jPod is the latest Douglas Coupland novel about programmers since Microserfs. It centers around a group of mildly autistic programmers in a video game company in Vancouver who all sit in the same area of the company because their last names begin with the letter "J" and in particular the lead character's life, Ethan Jarlewski.

While there are some interesting and thoughtful moments in the book, it unfortunately comes nowhere near the calibre of Microserfs due to the following reasons.

1) Wildly outrageous plot lines: I won't go into too much detail about these, but suffice to say where Microserfs was at least plausible (if slightly unrealistic), Coupland relies on ridiculous events to keep the story going in this case. Not only that, the characters are able to navigate these plot points virtually unscathed and unscarred (where as in real life these kind of things would require months of therapy).

2) Too many non-story devices: There is one part of the book where the number pi is printed to 100,000 places which uses up about 10 pages which is not story which no one will bother reading. These kinds of techniques are employed liberally throughout the book.

3) Too many pop culture references: It's as if Coupland has decided that the pop culture references are more important than the characters. In Microserfs they were cute, in jPod they are overwheming.

4) Inserting himself into the novel: Ok, Hitchcock liked to make cameos in his movies, but Coupland not only makes his characters reference him, he also turns up in his own novel and ends up being the deus ex machina (god in the machine). This makes you hyper aware you are reading a novel and you completely lose the ability to lose yourself in the storyline.

So, Mr. Coupland, if you ever get around to reading this and then writing another novel about the programming community please heed these issues. On the one hand I think there are enough interesting quirks about programmers to fill lots of books and so I am glad you continue to write about them (us), but please focus on the characters.

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