Computer age spawns 'Everyman'


From The Denver Post (June 11, 1995)

by Dan Pacheco

If there was ever a study in randomness, "Microserfs" would be its textbook.

The new book by Douglas Coupland, the Canadian who coined the phrase "Generation X" in the 1989 best seller by the same name, is filled with the stuff. Indeed, every 10th page seems devoted to stream-of-consciousness babble that rivals that of the most obscure James Joyce novel.

But somewhere in the entropy is perhaps the first Everyman's novel about the information age.

Unlike the fantastic futuristic universes presented in Hollywood'sLawnmower Man and the weirder cyberpunk novels of William Gibson, Microserfs looks at computer culture from the less-than-glamorous perspective of the computer programmer, by definition an esoteric existence.

The story begins in Redmond, Wash., with a handful of twentysomething programmers who work in the shadow of software tycoon Bill Gates, the creator of Microsoft Windows and MS-DOS, upon which every IBM-compatible computer is based.

The Cult of Bill

This is the frighteningly real fiefdom of a man who in any one day is labeled both Satan and savior in the hallowed halls of cyberspace and the press.

The characters "code" (computerspeak for program) day and night inside the fortress of the Microsoft Campus, while those more fortunate - and loved by Gates - dawdle and philosophize on the building's grassy periphery like modern poets.

What Coupland calls The Cult of Bill so permeates the place that no one within his presence is left with a sense of individuality, or for that matter, a life.

This begins to change when the character Michael is rewarded by Gates with a trip to Cupertino, Calif. Michael returns with news of a new company and an obscure piece of new software called "Oop!" that supposedly makes programming as easy as building a tower of Legos.

Generation X growing up

A troupe of geeks follows him to the Silicon Valley, where they begin to fashion a new empire while working without paychecks and living off accrued Microsoft stock.

While definitely annoying, random thoughts prove to be the perfect avenue for snippets of Coupland's comic wisdom through the main character Dan, through whose daily diary the story is told.

Who can't relate at least one day out of the year to his comparison of the body as a station wagon that drives his brain around like a mother taking the kids to hockey practice?

Gen X growing up

In many ways, the novel is Generation X growing up. It's the heroic tale of separation from the corporate and social collective. And more important, "Microserfs" is an eerie voice in the desert reminding us that the 1980s wave of corporate greed and hostile takeovers is only just beginning in the computer industry, which already controls our jobs, families and lives more than we'd like to admit