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Generation A: A Novel

Generation A: A Novel

4.0 23
by Douglas Coupland

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Generation A
is set in the near future in a world where bees are extinct, until five unconnected people all around the world— in the United States, Canada, France, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka—are all stung. Their shared experience unites them in ways they never could have imagined.

Generation A
mirrors Coupland’s debut novel,


Generation A
is set in the near future in a world where bees are extinct, until five unconnected people all around the world— in the United States, Canada, France, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka—are all stung. Their shared experience unites them in ways they never could have imagined.

Generation A
mirrors Coupland’s debut novel, 1991’s Generation X. It explores new ways of storytelling in a digital world. Like much of Coupland’s writing, it occupies the perplexing hinterland between optimism about the future and everyday apocalyptic paranoia. Imaginative, inventive, and fantastically entertaining, Generation A is his most ambitious work to date.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Coupland's thematic sequel to Generation X strives once more to explore and define the edges of group identity through a Decameron-style storytelling marathon. Taking place in a near-future in which bees have become inexplicably extinct, five young men and women become the subjects of fame and scientific curiosity when they're the first people in five years to suffer a sting. Zack, an Iowa farmer, is the first and is soon followed by Harj in Sri Lanka, Samantha in New Zealand, Diana in Canada and Julien, who resides in Paris but lives primarily in World of Warcraft. Captured by a clandestine organization headed by a man named Serge, the unlikely group is eventually moved to a remote island, where Serge compels them to recite stories. Always in the background are rumblings of the hyperaddictive drug Solon, which holds its users in a perpetual present. Coupland juggles some fascinating ideas, and the story circle holds equal parts humor and revelation, though the revolving crew of narrators—particularly the women—can be difficult to distinguish from one another. Despite its flaws, this book will interest readers in search of an intelligent look at pop and digital culture. (Dec.)
Library Journal
It's been 18 years since Coupland (JPod) identified and deflated Generation X in his 1991 debut. Now he blends the end with a new beginning, taking on Generation A. Set in a deteriorating near future, it's the story of five young people: an Iowan who farms nude; a New Zealander whose parents have abdicated belief; a sullen Parisian addicted to World of Warcraft; a Tourette's-afflicted Canadian dental hygienist; and a Sri Lankan telemarketer whose family was erased by a tsunami. Digitally plugged-in but otherwise isolated, they rise from obscurity when stung by bees, creatures that everyone thought extinct. Brought together on a remote island, they are asked by a shadowy scientist to, of all things, tell stories. With deft twists, seemingly random details are melded with grace. VERDICT With strands of humor, sf, and social commentary, Coupland melds Chuck Palahniuk's wild imagination with Nick Hornby's character ensembles. This clever send-up of modern culture will send readers racing to the beginning to see what they missed on first pass. Lightning strikes twice! Coupland defines another generation and crafts a satisfying ode to the power of story.—Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews
Five iconoclasts are drawn together by their reactions to an extraordinary bee sting. Perhaps no other postmodern author wields such a wildly split personality as Coupland (The Gum Thief, 2007, etc.). His worst instincts are on full display in this disingenuous, warmed-over retread of Generation X. The story picks up in the near future as an unconnected quintet of rotating narrators amuse themselves with futuristic hobbies ranging from drawing sketches in a cornfield with satellite imagery to making "earth sandwiches" using GPS coordinates and cell phones. "It's an Internet thing," says New Zealander Samantha, without a hint of irony. Her fellow protagonists are Harj, an earnest Sri Lankan call-center manager; Iowa farmboy Zack; Julien, a caustic French gamer; and Diana, a Tourette's sufferer. Coupland's premise isn't bad (by his standards): When the five are stung by bees at exactly the same moment, they're whisked away by government drones and briefly thrust into the spotlight as Internet celebrities, which allows the author to hurl his usual volleys about the wired world. He also manufactures an interesting subplot about the world's addiction to Solon, a "chronosuppressive" drug that eliminates anxiety about the future. But just as the characters are beginning to assert themselves, they're whisked off to a remote island off the coast of Canada and encouraged by their mysterious host to spin short stories, the telling of which occupies the remainder of the text. If this sounds like a construct created specifically to make a point, it is. The point? The mystery drug draws its users away from the present in the same manner that reading a good book does. Coupland's increasingly flip proseand his propensity to hit you over the head with social commentary, however, make this is a not-very-good book. Generation X with less snark, less plot and much less interesting characters.

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Read an Excerpt

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

How can we be alive and not wonder about the stories we use to knit together this place we call the world? Without stories, our universe is merely rocks and clouds and lava and blackness. It’s a village scraped raw by warm waters leaving not a trace of what existed before.

Imagine a tropical sky, ten miles high and a thousand years off on the horizon. Imagine air that feels like honey on your forehead; imagine air that comes out of your lungs cooler than when it entered.

Imagine hearing a dry hiss outside your office building’s window. Imagine walking to the window’s louvred shutters and looking out and seeing the entire contents of the world you know flow past you in a surprisingly soothing, quiet sluice of grey mud: palm fronds, donkeys, the local Fanta bottler’s Jeep, unlocked bicycles, dead dogs, beer crates, shrimper’s skiffs, barbed wire fences, garbage, ginger flowers, oil sheds, Mercedes tour buses, chicken delivery vans.
. . . corpses
. . . plywood sheets
. . . dolphins
. . . a moped
. . . a tennis net
. . . laundry baskets
. . . a baby
. . . baseball caps
. . . more dead dogs
. . . corrugated zinc

Imagine a space alien is standing with you there in the room as you read these words. What do you say to him? Her? It? What was once alive is now dead. Would aliens even know the difference between life and death? Perhaps aliens experience something else just as unexpected as life. And what would that be? What would they say to themselves to plaster over the unexplainable cracks of everyday existence, let alone a tsunami? What myths or lies dothey hold true? How do they tell stories?

Now look back out your window–look at what the gods have barfed out of your subconscious and into the world–the warm, muddy river of dead cats, old women cauled in moist saris, aluminum propane canisters, a dead goat, flies that buzz unharmed just above the fray.
. . . picnic coolers
. . . clumps of grass
. . . a sunburnt Scandinavian pederast
. . . white plastic stacking chairs
. . . drowned soldiers tangled in gun straps

And then what do you do–do you pray? What is prayer but a wish for the events in your life to string together to form a story–something that makes some sense of events you know have meaning.

And so I pray.

Mahaska County, Iowa

Cornfields are the scariest things on the entire fucking face of the planet. I don’t mean that in a Joe-Pesci-being-clubbed-to-death-with-an-aluminum-baseball-bat kind of way, and I don’t mean it in an alien-crop-circles kind of way, and I don’t mean it in a butchering-hitchhikers kind of way. I don’t even mean it in an alien-autopsy-remains-used-as-fertilizer kind of way. I mean it in a Big-Corn-Archer Daniels Midland/Cargill/Monsantogenetically-modified-high-fructose-ethanol kind of way. Corn is a fucking nightmare. A thousand years ago it was a stem of grass with one scuzzy little kernel; now it’s a bloated, footlong, buttery carb dildo. And get this: cornstarch molecules are a mile long. Back in the seventies, Big Corn patented some new enzyme that chops those miles into a trillion discrete blips of fructose. A few years later these newly liberated fructose molecules assault the national food chain. Blammo! An entire nation becomes morbidly obese. Fact is, the human body isn’t built to withstand high-dose assaults of fructose. It enters your body and your body says, Hmmm . . . do I turn this into shit or do I turn it into blubber? Blubber it is! Corn turns off the shit switch. The corn industry’s response to this? Who–us? Contributing to the obesity epidemic? No way, man. People simply started to snack more in the eighties. Now be quiet and keep drinking all that New Formula Coke.

Man, humans are a nightmare fucking species. We deserve everything we do to ourselves.

But who the fuck gets stung by a bee in a combine tractor in the middle of a cornfield in Mahaska County, Iowa? Me, fucking me.

By the way, welcome to Oskaloosa and all the many features that make Oskaloosa a terrific place to visit. There’s something for everyone here, from the historic city square with its bandstand to the George Daily Auditorium, the award-winning Oskaloosa Public Library, William Penn University and three golf courses.

I stole most of that last paragraph from the Internet. What the town’s home page forgot to mention was my father’s meth distillery (“lab” makes it sound so Cletus-&-Brandeen), which got busted by the DEA a few years back. Dad and the DEA never got along too well.

Six years ago Dad got wasted and in a moment of paranoia stole the Oskaloosa Library’s bookmobile, abandoning its carcass in the 14th hole sand trap of the legendary Edmundson Park and Golf Course. Then, in the delusion that he was destroying DEA monitoring equipment, he torched it, in the process losing his eyebrows, his driver’s licence, his freedom and his visitation rights to my two half-sisters, who live in Winnebago County.

Once out of the clink, he went right back to business and when his meth distillery was raided, the back of his head was toasted by a canister of boiling toluene. He spent six weeks in the correctional facility’s hospital unit until he got into reason able enough shape to walk around. My uncle Jay, a lawyer and Freon broker from Palo Alto, was able to post bail and had Dad flown out to California for OCD counselling. Dad picked up drug-resistant staph from a set of improperly cleaned in-flight headsets that infected his burn scar; by the time they touched down at SFO, maybe a quarter of his head was eaten up. So then we buried Dad, and Uncle Jay sold half the farm and bought me the world’s most kickass corn harvest ing combine, Maizie.

Since then, Uncle Jay has sent me a reasonable paycheque in return for me not making meth (and following Daddy’s path), as well as for me doing a slightly more than half-ass job tending the corn (our family legacy), and for me to piss into an Erlenmeyer flask in front of Iowa’s creepiest Romanian lab technician (just in case I forgot the former two conditions). The urine was tested on the spot to see if I’d shaken hands with someone who ate a poppyseed bagel since the previous Tuesday; it’s not fun being treated like a disgraced Olympian athlete, but Uncle Jay made cleanliness a condition of keeping Maizie. I mean, everyone I know–hell, the whole country–is baked on drugs, clueless as dirt and morbidly obese. Normally I’d have been the perfect candidate for all three, except, 1) I can’t do drugs if I want my cheque, 2) I’m not entirely stupid and am at least curious about the world and 3) I believe corn is the devil. Try finding rice and soy grocery products in Mahaska County. Good luck. They might as well add that fact to Oskaloosa’s online civic profile: Oskaloosa’s grocers sell a wide array of products into which manufacturers have invisibly inserted a vast family of corn-derived molecules. Should your child decide to go vegetarian or adapt any other questionable dietary lifestyle choice, our grocers and mini-marts will thwart their teen desires at every corner.

Okay, here’s the thing I didn’t mention about the raid: the DEA also found a fake-vintage saltine cracker tin containing two dead men’s index fingers. Dad had been using them to loan authenticity to a long-running cheque fraud scheme, but there was a third finger the DEA didn’t find, which I traded soon after to a DEA server maintenance girl named Carly who was running some scam of her own. In return for the finger, she gave me a killer blowjob and access to the DEA’s real-time geosynchronous surveillance satellite cameras. I could have made something long-term with Carly, except she demanded that I cut off my ponytail and donate it to Locks of Love. Farewell, Carly. Why did I want access to a real-time satellite camera? For my art, of course. Details to come shortly.

So the day I got stung by that goddam bee I was out in Maizie, a harvester so luxurious it could shame a gay cruise liner. I was naked, and why not! The ergonomically sensible operator’s cab was fully pressurized and air-conditioned; unibody cab frame, rubber mounts and sound-absorbing material reduced noise levels to near zero. All-round visibility allowed me ample time to throw on some shorts if I saw a visitor arriving on the farm.

I was also listening to some trendy band from Luxembourg or the Vatican or Lichtenstein or the Falkland Islands, one of those places so small that a distinct pie slice of its GDP derives from the sale of postage stamps to collectors and music sales by nanotrendy indie rock bands.

I had my four plasmas on 1) the NFL, 2) some whacked-out Korean game show where people dress in animal costumes to win prizes that look like inflatable vinyl alphabet letters, 3) the DEA real-time satellite view of my farm and 4) a two-way satellite link to an insomniac freak named Charles, who works in the satellite TV media-buying wing of BBDO in Singapore. Charles pays a hundred bucks an hour to watch me work nude in my cab. Did I forget to mention that? Welcome to the new economy. If I can make an extra buck by getting off some Twinkie in another hemisphere, you know what? I’m in. Charles, you unzip your trousers. Zegna trousers, and I know that about you because I read your secret online profile: lions-and-tigers-and-bears@labelwhore.org.

In any event, the sexy portion of Charles’s day seemed to have been completed, and the two of us were talking. Specifically, Charles was trashing the state of Iowa, branding it “The Rectangle State.” I quickly disabused him of this notion, pointing out that Colorado is technically the rectangle state.

Charles said, “Yes, its overall shape is rectangular, but if you look at a county map of Colorado, it looks like a bunch of ripped paper shreds stacked by preschoolers, whereas Iowa is divvied up into 113 neatly aligned rectangles.”

“Quit mocking my state’s spatial configuration.”

“Wake up, CornDog.”

Okay, maybe, just maybe I was high that day. (Have you ever found a Romanian lab technician who couldn’t be bribed?) My personal rule is that I only get high when the weather sets a new record, and, BTW, my name isn’t CornDog. It’s Zack. And I’m not ADD, I’m just Zack. ADD is a face-saving term my parents slapped on me when they figured out I wasn’t Stephen Hawking.

I hear people asking, Where is Zack’s mother? Is Zack a plucky orphan? No, Zack has an age-inappropriate future stepfather-in-the-making named Kyle who breeds genetically defective Jack Russell terriers with his mother in a shack in St. George, Utah.

Charles, meanwhile, was relentless: “CornDog, what the hell were they thinking when they were divvying up your state?”

On the DEA real-time satellite cam I was zooming in and out of a map of Iowa, shifting scale and superimposing geo-political borders. Charles was right. Iowa is the Rectangle State.

More importantly, I was using the satellite to keep real-time track of that day’s masterpiece, a ten-acre cock and balls I was chopping out of the cornstalks to send as a long overdue thank-you note to God for having me be born into the cultural equivalent of one of those machines they use to shake paint in hardware stores. I didn’t have to please Uncle Jay with harvesting efficiency that year–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. In an uncharacteristic act of citizenhood, the corn industry had decided to scrap the crop. I wasn’t too pissed about that–look at the bright side: subsidies! So even though the corn was in tassel and at its prettiest, I could clear those stalk fuckers whatever way I wanted.

The fateful moment occurred shortly after Charles told me about a lap dance he’d won in a pre-op tranny nightclub the week before. One of Maizie’s windows was rattling a bit, so I went and jiggled it on its hinges. I opened and closed it a few times and, shazaam!, that’s when I got stung.

Meet the Author

Douglas Coupland is Canadian, born on a Canadian Air Force base near Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1961. In 1965 his family moved to Vancouver, Canada, where he continues to live and work. Coupland has studied art and design in Vancouver, Canada, Milan, Italy and Sapporo, Japan. His first novel, Generation X, was published in March of 1991. Since then he has published eleven novels and several non-fiction books in 35 languages and most countries on earth. He has written and performed for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, England, and in 2001 resumed his practice as a visual artist, with exhibitions in spaces in North America, Europe, and Asia. 2006 marks the premiere of the feature film Everything's Gone Green, his first story written specifically for the screen and not adapted from any previous work. A TV series (13 one-hour episodes) based on his novel, "jPod" premiered on the CBC in January, 2008.

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