Monday, October 12, 2009

Generation A by Douglas Coupland

In Coupland's future, bees have gone extinct. Human diets have changed quite a bit, since so many plants depend upon bees for pollination. Hand-pollinated apples command exorbitant prices, when they are even available. People eat a lot of potatoes and wind-pollinated plants like corn.

Except that corn has its own problems. We are introduced to Zack in his Iowa cornfield, driving Maizie, "a harvester so luxurious it could shame a gay cruise liner." Zack's concern is not harvesting efficiency because "the whole crop was contaminated with some kind of gene trace that was killing off not bees (a thing of the past) but moths and wasps." So he is creating a ten-acre masterpiece design chopped out of cornstalks, using real-time satellite feeds to keep track of his work. And then he is stung by a bee.

Four other people around the world get stung shortly afterwards: Harj in Sri Lanka; Julien in Paris; Diana in North Bay, Ontario; and Samantha in Palmerston North, New Zealand. I was tickled to see that Coupland used kiwi slang when he was writing in Samantha's voice - 'Palmy' for the name of her town, and 'crikey dick' to express her exasperation. The five end up in a remote location together, being studied. They are one of the Haida Gwaii islands, in the temperate rain forest of British Columbia. "Within that forest, from all directions - up, down and sideways - life squished out like a Play-Doh Fun Factory."

A clue is given early on as to what might be happening to the five stingees, when a French scientist tells Julien (regarding the human frontal lobe not yet being completely developed at his age, 22): "nature gives young people fluid personalities because society would otherwise never get soldiers to fight its wars. Young people are still capable of being tricked by idiotic ideas."

Coupland covers some of the same ground as Margaret Atwood in The Year of the Flood: the natural world gone awry with scientific tinkering and a drug that is globally popular. His humour is more ebullient than Atwood's, however. I giggled often while reading. When Samantha returns home after having been in isolation for weeks, she says, "A reunion is always nice, so please insert some generic welcome-home family greetings here." (I think Coupland stole that idea from Nicole Brossard in Yesterday at the Hotel Clarendon, but it was way funnier in Coupland's version.)

The title comes from a university commencement address given by Kurt Vonnegut in 1994. "Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favours when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

The first part of Generation A is definitely the strongest. I was not sure how I felt about the ending, so I've taken a few days (reading five other books) to think about it before blogging. I've decided I like it in its entirety. Please feel free to offer your comments.

1 comment:

Matthew Selwyn said...

I'm in that period after finishing the book where I'm not sure if I'm totally satisfied with its ending. The first part is definitely easier to enjoy but the second, although enjoyable in its way, is definitely disjointed and disrupts the flow of the overarching story.

My review: Generation A by Douglas Coupland