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Douglas Coupland returns with a hilarious new novel that explores tech culture, Ronald McDonald, lesbian separatists, and the nightmare of being Googled.

If Douglas Coupland's hilarious new novel, JPod (Bloomsbury, $24.95), reminds you of his 1996 Microserfs, don't worry--that's exactly what he had in mind. But while that earlier novel explored techie geeks finding themselves at the beginning of what turned into the dot-com bubble of the late 20th century, JPod is set firmly in the age of Google.

JPod is an island of cubicles at a big computer company where the novel's main characters are toiling away at a skateboard video game that their bosses seem intent on ruining--first the hapless geeks are forced to add a "hip and edgy" turtle character, and then a new regime of management wants to turn the whole thing into a fantasy adventure involving flying carpets and magical sprites. As revenge the coders create a hidden parallel game that involves a homicidal Ronald McDonald on a terrifying killing spree. All of this goes on in the background of the novel's much more complicated story line, which includes a pot-farming mom, a Chinese smuggler of refugees who sidelines as a professional ballroom dancer, lesbian separatist survivalists, and an obnoxious writer named Douglas Coupland. And if all that isn't enough, Coupland interweaves pages of numbers and letters disguised as quizzes. (Can you find the rogue digit in the first 100,000 places of pi?)

Coupland spoke from his home in Vancouver, Canada, and--typically for the author of Generation X--the conversation veered off into fascinating tangents covering everything from Mary Tyler Moore to Nigerian spam e-mails.

The last time we spoke, you talked about how you hate traveling and how you are, technologically speaking, a semi-Luddite. And yet in this book you're traipsing around China and talking the geek talk of the tech world. You do a very convincing job of not being the voice that's presented in your work. Oh, thank you. Uh, that is a "thank you" situation, right?

Of course. It's baffling to me that in talking to you, I get a different picture of you than someone reading the book would get of you and the life you lead. I do go to China, and I know people who have, so I kept on grilling them, "What's it like?" I thought the funniest comments were about how bad the air was. Which of course becomes a running joke.

Microserfsand JPod run on parallel tracks. Does it worry you at all that people will accuse you of rehashing a previous book? I don't think so. The tone of the two is so different, probably because things have changed so much in the last 10 years. I think with Microserfs there was really the sense of something new and "1.0" being created in the culture. It wasn't just the bubble and all the money, although that was certainly part of it. There was a "Wow," especially with Apple, like this is something fundamental and amazing that's going to transform society. And nowadays the money is gone, and it's not transforming society; it's just finding out what's the capital of Michigan. Everything's different, but nothing's different.

I think the characters in JPod are much more amoral, and they certainly inhabit a much more amoral universe. Certainly Vancouver, where the book takes place--we don't make anything in Vancouver, we just push electrons around with a stick, and we flip real estate. We're kind of like a bedroom community to global piracy. We're living in a concentrated version of the present here. And in a way, the city itself is part of the book.

I have to share this with you in light of the book--I got a press release this morning about a series of new DVDs starring Ronald McDonald, and they're designed to encourage kids to exercise. Oh, boy. I saw this commercial about two weeks ago where Ronald's become a "real person." It's kind of disturbing. If I remember it correctly, people are sitting talking about something, and Ronald is walking by and saying, "Oh, but did you know blah blah blah?" I guess it brings up the whole question of, "Well, do you ever take your makeup off? Or were you born that way, like Krusty the Klown?" If you think about spokesmascots too deeply, it gets very dark very soon. Do you think the Lucky Charms leprechaun has a drinking problem? [Alonso laughs] He lives alone; all he does is terrorize kids, and he has no other known job activity.

There's a lot of fixation issues going on, like with the Trix rabbit. When that leprechaun hits bottom, I don't think he's going to own up to it. And neither is General Mills. Do you have A&W in the States? Their mascot is Chubby Chicken, this baby chick who's selling out his species.

I was not shocked to discover between the lines of this book that you're a Mary Tyler Moore fanatic. I caught the "veal Prince Orloff and pears Felicia" reference. [Laughs] You got it. Sometimes I put those things in, and I wonder if anyone's ever going to get them.

So much of Gen X nostalgia, if you'll pardon the expression, has been commodified to a point that you never want to talk about it again. The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I think, has survived that really well. Actually, yeah. It's even survived those TV movies where Rhoda and Mary have kids.

That was depressing. I didn't even watch it. You knew how it was going to be. How did it work script-wise?

They were both widowed, or one was widowed and one was divorced, or something. I don't even think I watched the whole thing. Remember how Mary talked about having two dates a week? How many dates is that?

There's a whole episode that begins with her counting the dates she's been on over the course of her life, and the punch line is "Two...thousand...dates!" Don't you think she would have met someone on 2,000 dates?

Or contracted an STD. In looking through the book I was reminded of something you said last time, where you think of your books as being another piece of visual art that you've created. Oh, yeah. I think I've really pushed it in this one, especially with the numbers. I'll be curious to see, when the reviews start coming in, if they accuse me of doing that "trendy messing with type" thing without bothering to research the fact that Microserfs did the very same thing in '95.

I remember that in Eleanor Rigby you put in one Google search statement, and when I searched it, fans of yours were using the phrase to get people to come to their sites. I'm sure every e-mail address in this book will be investigated by hardcore fans. And someone's going to try to find the o in the list of random numbers. People always do that, it's fun. Or they'll try to find the incorrect pi digit.

Right. I almost thought about trying to find the ringer in the list of legal three-letter Scrabble words, but then I thought, No, I can't do it. My nephew obsessed on it. He's in grade four, and I'm just horrified that he'll read the book because there's so much swearing and it's so cynical and dark. My favorite part is the numbers because you're reading and suddenly, Doing! I would hope that it creates a sensation in your head that your head's never felt before. Or at the beginning of each section, where there's the spew that comes out of offices--I hope that puts your head in a place it's never been before. It's not gratuitous; it's just trying to create these new sensations in your head, or new ways of looking at letters and numbers that makes you rethink them.

Like if you watch TV static for a while you start seeing loops and whorls and images in it. It's like that '70s smoking-pot thing, where you watch TV with the sound down and Pink Floyd on in the background, and there's all these amazing coincidences.

I love that there's actual spam in this novel. Somebody really needed to put some between hard covers. It's almost like a Smithsonian thing. In the future, "Mom, Dad--What was a penis-enlargement spam like?" And here we have it. Or the Nigerian bank fraud spam. People don't really save these things, and they're gone before you realize that they were part of the culture. I use a Mac, so I never get spam. Do they still have that?

Yeah. I have a decent filter, but every so often there it is. And neither the Nigerian guy nor the penis enlargers have gone away. And I still see all kinds of creative spellings of Valium and Viagra. [Laughs] It's like a*s*t*e*r*i*s*k*s between every letter.

I'm wondering if you read Bret Easton Ellis's new novel and worried that he too had written himself into his book. No, I haven't read it yet.

Ellis does the same thing, where he creates a more asshole-y version of himself, the worst version of him created by the press and his detractors. When I look at my own experience and why I did it--and maybe in the future I'll say, "Aha, that's what I was really doing"--I think it was just a natural response to your own relationship with your own media and your own electronic baggage, whatever it may be. He started out five years before I did, so he's got just that much more. I think I'm only going to do it just the once. But, you know, Kurt Vonnegut had Kilgore Trout.

Right. And Somerset Maugham put himself into The Razor's Edge. I didn't know that. OK, so maybe it's something people do every so often. Do people still say "postmodern" anymore?

I think it's become "meta." That makes more sense.

One of the things I always respond to in your work is the notion of growing up with corporate logos and the familiarity and reassurance of them. You use a lot of brand names and slogans and even label copy in your work, and there's something about that specific product-based media. I remember the first time I ever responded to words as a work of art as opposed to being just words in a story. That was back in '69 or '70 in grade two or three, being 7 or 8 and looking up pop art in the World Book and seeing Roy Lichtenstein's Wham! and Warhol's Campbell's Soup cans. Which at the time somebody at World Book probably got fired over. "You can't put that in there. It's not art." Words became aestheticized, and corporations became aestheticized simultaneously. I've always looked at most logos--and a lot of work goes into them--they're well-designed, and they're in the culture. Then going to art school as opposed to going through an English lit program, the way you approach cultural hierarchy is different. In an English lit program they tell you that certain things are superior, and certain things you're not allowed to acknowledge or write about or create with. And the art world is much more friendly: It says that culture is culture, whether you're "high" or "low" or whatever, and it's all resource material that you can use to create with. So I don't get snobby about things like brand names. If it fits and it's part of the person's experience, then it should be part of the form.

That's a tedious and academic response to something I'm not actually academic about. But it drives me nuts that people who go to those programs don't write about the world honestly. That's one difference between writing and the visual art world, but the other difference is that the nice thing about fiction is that you can write about characters who are incredibly different from yourself, like Alan Gurganus and the oldest living Confederate widow, whereas in the art world you're only "allowed" to make art that is based on you as a person. I think it's nice to migrate between the two forms the way I do, because the types of permission and the types of authorship allowed are so different that there's not a part of yourself that you're somehow repressing by sticking to one medium. Boy, that was a fascinating answer! [Alonso laughs] Sorry, man--it's true, but it's also dry as dirt.

[We talk off the record about his recent interview with Morrissey for the U.K. paper The Independent, and about how weird the act of conducting interviews often is.]

And what's become so incredibly apparent with this book is that the aggregation of Q&A on Google is boggling. It's to the point where I don't even know if I'm going to do press on my next book because I feel like everything I'd be answering is out there [already] in multiple.

The thing that always strikes me about Google is that it makes me really glad that there wasn't an Internet when I was 19 [Coupland laughs] because I would hate nothing more than to be haunted by some of the opinions I once had or articulated. It's bad enough that my college newspaper is in a bound edition somewhere. But if it were on the Internet I'd never live it down. You know what the most embarrassing thing in the world is? Letters you wrote your parents when you were 18 or 19 years old. Oh, my God, it's all just like lies and wishful thinking and fantasy and half cooked accusations. I think parents know that at the time they read them. My mom still has this pile, and I know where they are, just sit there like Kryptonite. I can't even go to that part of the room.

I don't think it changes the way biographies are written. I still buy as many biographies now as I ever used to. So I think that if people really want to know about someone, they pick up a book. Sometimes I think the Internet killed the author photo. Everyone's read a book and wondered what he or she looked like and then flipped to the back cover and wondered if that was just a good day for him, and what are they looking like now? And now, of course, you can find a gallery with tens of thousands of unflattering photos, in bad light, in bad situations, at any given moment anywhere on Earth. It's like, ugh!

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