The Keys To Gates Castle


From The Record (June 18, 1995)

by Laurence Chollet

Douglas Coupland is perhaps best known as the man who chronicled the consumption habits, television preferences, and high-tech brilliance of The Generation That Will Not Be Mentioned Any More, at least in his presence.

But in one sense, that media spin has distracted from the essence of what Coupland and his books, like "Shampoo Planet" or "Life After God", are all about: the human heart in conflict with the technological machines and products the mind created.

"One of the grand mythologies of the 20th century is that we are not animals," Coupland said recently from Los Angeles. "We think we are not furry, we don't stink, or poop.... But we do, and when all is said and done, we are just as animal as a skunk or a frog.... And it is only logical that we are only going to make our animal nature manifest in our machines."

That theme is at the heart of Coupland's latest book, "Microserfs" (Harper, $ 21). It centers on Daniel Underwood, a 26-year-old "bug checker" at Microsoft who shares a rented ranch house with five other intellectually gifted but emotionally stunted "serfs." They all work the programming assembly lines for "Bill" , as in Gates, the legendary founder of software giant.

Daniel, however, is haunted by the tragic death of his brother, Jed, and that sadness leads him far beyond his PowerBook and the corporate offices of Silicon Valley.

The book is fiction, or, as Coupland says, "fiction science." The characters are fictional, but Coupland did his homework in the jungles of Microsoft.

He spent six weeks rooming with employees, tracking their habits, and generally learning what makes them, and the Computer Culture they represent, tick.

"I've heard that a best-selling writer literally has a team of researchers working for him," Coupland said. "I can't do that even if I wanted to: the type of things I'm interested in, like What do nerds keep in their vegetable crispers? , you can't hire someone to find.... That's the kind of thing you don't even notice until you notice it."

The biggest challenge in putting the book together was checking and rechecking techi-speak and myriad references to consumer culture, Coupland said.

He even put a note in the first edition of "Serfs," asking for readers to write in about any factual errors. So far only one has turned up, and it involves a reference to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," which shows up in "Serfs" as the cryptic line: "Haywood Floyd American Moon."

"The line in the movie is, Moon American Floyd Haywood, " Coupland said. "That was a really nerdy mistake on my part."