If nothing else, Generation A introduced me to the wonderful world of Earth Sandwiches. Unfortunately, for me to make one I’d have to find someone in a boat south-east of New Zealand… does it count if it’s an Earth-Sea Sandwich? You have to admit that any author who knows what an Earth Sandwich is must have his finger on the pulse of the internet generation.
Generation A is a seriously smart book. A smart idea, smartly executed and you can’t help but feel smart for getting the ending. It’s also a love song to the written word, to story-telling and the people who enjoy them, so it was rewarding on that level as well. Actually, because of it I’ve decided to add that “I pledge to read the written word” button to this blog. According to Coupland that commitment might also make my flesh tastier to any human-eating ETs.
In a near future bees are extinct and with them many of the flowers and fruit they help reproduce. Eating an apple, for instance, is a luxury because they have to be hand-pollinated. (Some parts of the world today already have to resort to these methods, the book A World Without Bees mentions the case of pears in China that are manually pollinated because of excessive use of pesticides in the 80s). Some years after the last bees were spotted, five people in different parts of the world are stung within a few days of each other. The hyper-connected world makes them instant celebrities, even before scientists whisk them off and study them in isolated sensory-deprivation rooms for weeks.
Coupland tells this story using the POV of these five people, one chapter each, always with the same order. It was great fun to see him handle distinctive voices so well, when they’re the Achilles Heels of so many other novels. It kept things interesting and fluid.
Once the five are released, they instinctively look for the only other people in the world that know what they’re feeling, so, prompted by one of the scientists, they eventually meet in an isolated island. There they begin telling stories to each other, and eventually uncover the mystery behind the bees’ disappearance and why they were stung.
Among all the funny bits and cultural references (Kmail!), there’s a lot of depth to this book. It would probably make a good bookclub choice, although I think I’d have a hard time convincing mine to choose it. In that sense Douglas Coupland is very much like Chuck Palahniuk: they both use irreverent characters, bad language and seemingly psychotic plots (gimmick fiction?) to make serious social commentary. And sometimes it’s really just fun, as illustrated by a hilarious conversation about Tweety Bird’s sexual preferences.
Both Generation X and Generation A follow the same type of narrative and debate about technology, the internet and the creation of a “hive” feeling that threatens our individuality – I know what I Google, I do what I Facebook (I read what I blog? ). Among this information overload, reading a book is still very much a silent action, between you and the voice in your head, which can help keep your creativity and personality. Or at least that’s the theory in Generation A.
Book read for One, Two, Theme Challenge
Theme 4: Bees/Honey