Modern misfits live for software


From Calgary Herald (August 26, 1995)

by Nigel Waters

Douglas Coupland, who made his novel-writing debut with the cult classic Generation X, has produced another sure-fire best-seller with his latest offering, Microserfs.

The new novel received widespread publicity when the first chapter appeared as the cover story in Wired magazine in January 1994. The final chapter, all but the last few pages, have now just appeared in the July 1995 issue of Wired.

The style of the new novel is very much in the spirit of Generation X. It is told in the first person singular and has a diary-like format that details the lives of a small group of modern misfits. But there the similarity ends for these misfits are no Generation Xers. They are - at least they think they are the cream of the technological intelligentsia and in the opening chapter they all have jobs, salaries and career prospects to die for.

They all work for BILL at Microsoft. The group of Todd, Bug, Abe, Michael, Susan, storyteller Daniel and his girlfriend Karla are so brilliantly characterized that you have a hard time believing that this is not for real. These enfant terribles are, by-and-large, "fiscal Republican(s), but otherwise pretty empty-file in the ideology department."

For Techno-freaks the jargon is all there and a major delight is the portrayal of Bill (Gates), who takes on mythical proportions. Life is good as long as your software ships on time. Indeed it is the older generation that struggles in Microserfs as Daniel's dad is laid off by IBM and struggles to make himself re- employable through learning the computer language C++.

Also fascinating is Coupland's use of lists, including portraying his characters by their seven favorite Jeopardy categories. All are living for the day that their Microsoft stock options "vest" - although newer employees do not usually have this benefit to anticipate. Are Daniel and his buddies a new generation of haves spanning the next Generation X of have-nots? Or will every generation always have its winners and losers?

Coding for Bill quickly becomes less than satisfying and eventually the microserfs leave to form a new company that will produce their own innovative software, allowing them to achieve one-point-oh status - techno-babble for conceiving and producing your own entirely new product. The concluding chapter with the New Age-like title of Transhumanity is perhaps not well articulated enough to be convincing, and whether there will be a new Fox TV show that not only materializes, as Wired suggests, but also survives is anyone's guess.