Microserfs

( 22 )

Overview

They are Microserfs—six code-crunching computer whizzes who spend upward of sixteen hours a day "coding" and eating "flat" foods (food which, like Kraft singles, can be passed underneath closed doors) as they fearfully scan company e-mail to learn whether the great Bill is going to "flame" one of them. But now there's a chance to become innovators instead of cogs in the gargantuan Microsoft machine. The intrepid Microserfs are striking out on their own—living together in a shared digital flophouse as they ...

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Microserfs: A Novel

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Overview

They are Microserfs—six code-crunching computer whizzes who spend upward of sixteen hours a day "coding" and eating "flat" foods (food which, like Kraft singles, can be passed underneath closed doors) as they fearfully scan company e-mail to learn whether the great Bill is going to "flame" one of them. But now there's a chance to become innovators instead of cogs in the gargantuan Microsoft machine. The intrepid Microserfs are striking out on their own—living together in a shared digital flophouse as they desperately try to cultivate well-rounded lives and find love amid the dislocated, subhuman whir and buzz of their computer-driven world.

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Editorial Reviews

Jay McInerney
“Coupland continues to register the buzz of his generation with fidelity.”
Entertainment Weekly
“The novel’s real fun is the frequent and rapidly fired pop-culture references that span the 70s, 80s and 90s...and Coupland uses them with relish.”
Entertainment Weekly
The novel's real fun is the frequent and rapidly fired pop-culture references that span the 70s, 80s and 90s...and Coupland uses them with relish.
New York Times Book Review
Coupland continues to register the buzz of his generation with fidelity.
Entertainment Weekly
The novel's real fun is the frequent and rapidly fired pop-culture references that span the 70s, 80s and 90s...and Coupland uses them with relish.
New York Times Book Review
Coupland continues to register the buzz of his generation with fidelity.
Library Journal
The fun in this abridged audiobook is in the author's Life After God, Audio Reviews, LJ 6/1/94 penchant for linking together strings of descriptive 1990s pop culture icons and cyberterms in single sentences. For instance, a road is a "beautifully landscaped four-lane corridor of fast food franchises and metallically skinned tech headquarters." But at the same time, the listener all too soon senses a techie sitting at his computer terminal spewing stream-of-consciousness lingo through his word processor and calling it a novel. Whether it is due to overediting by the abridger or poor writing, there is, essentially, no plot. Well, brother Jed drowns in a flashback, Dad gets fired, and Mom has a stroke, but these human elements are injected in an embarrassingly mawkish way. It is also interesting to note how the hard edge in narrator Matthew Perry's voice goes soft in these scenes. The novel was originally serialized in Wired. Purchase only where the author has a large following.-Mark Pumphrey, Polk Cty. P.L., Columbus, N.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061624261
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/11/2008
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 310,459
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Coupland is the author of twelve novels, including Generation X and Microserfs, and several works of nonfiction, including Polaroids from the Dead. He lives and works in Vancouver, Canada.

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Read an Excerpt

Microserfs
A Novel

Chapter One

Microserfs Early Fall, 1993

This morning, just after 11:00, Michael locked himself in his office and he won't come out.

Bill (Bill!) sent Michael this totally wicked flame-mail from hell on the e-mail system—and he just whaled on a chunk of code Michael had written. Using the Bloom County-cartoons-taped-on-the-door index, Michael is certainly the most sensitive coder in Building Seven—not the type to take criticism easily. Exactly why Bill would choose Michael of all people to whale on is confusing.

We figured it must have been a random quality check to keep the troops in line. Bill's so smart.

Bill is wise.

Bill is kind.

Bill is benevolent.

Bill, Be My Friend . . . Please!

Actually, nobody on our floor has ever been flamed by Bill personally. The episode was tinged with glamour and we were somewhat jealous. I tried to tell Michael this, but he was crushed.

Shortly before lunch he stood like a lump outside my office. His skin was pale like rising bread dough, and his Toppy's cut was dripping sweat, leaving little damp marks on the oyster-gray-with-plum highlights of the Microsoft carpeting. He handed me a printout of Bill's memo and then gallumphed into his office, where he's been burrowed ever since.

He won't answer his phone, respond to e-mail, or open his door. On his doorknob he placed a "Do Not Disturb" thingy stolen from the Boston Radisson during last year's Macworld Expo. Todd and I walked out onto the side lawn to try to peek in his window, but his venetian blinds were closed and a gardener with a leaf blower chased us away with a spray of grassclippings.

They mow the lawn every ten minutes at Microsoft. It looks like green Lego pads.

Finally, at about 2:30 a.m., Todd and I got concerned about Michael's not eating, so we drove to the 24-hour Safeway in Redmond. We went shopping for "flat" foods to slip underneath Michael's door.

The Safeway was completely empty save for us and a few other Microsoft people just like us—hair-trigger geeks in pursuit of just the right snack. Because of all the rich nerds living around here, Redmond and Bellevue are very "on-demand" neighborhoods. Nerds get what they want when they want it, and they go psycho if it's not immediately available. Nerds overfocus. I guess that's the problem. But it's precisely this ability to narrow-focus that makes them so good at code writing: one line at a time, one line in a strand of millions.

When we returned to Building Seven at 3:00 a.m., there were still a few people grinding away. Our group is scheduled to ship product (RTM: Release to Manufacturing) in just eleven days (Top Secret: We'll never make it).

Michael's office lights were on, but once again, when we knocked, he wouldn't answer his door. We heard his keyboard chatter, so we figured he was still alive. The situation really begged a discussion of Turing logic—could we have discerned that the entity behind the door was indeed even human? We slid Kraft singles, Premium Plus crackers, Pop-Tarts, grape leather, and Freezie-Pops in to him.

Todd asked me, "Do you think any of this violates geek dietary laws?"

Just then, Karla in the office across the hall screamed and then glared out at us from her doorway. Her eyes were all red and sore behind her round glasses. She said, "You guys are only encouraging him," like we were feeding a raccoon or something. I don't think Karla ever sleeps.

She harrumphed and slammed her door closed. Doors sure are important to nerds.

Anyway, by this point Todd and I were both really tired. We drove back to the house to crash, each in our separate cars, through the Campus grounds—22 buildings' worth of nerd-cosseting fun—cloistered by 100-foot-tall second growth timber, its streets quiet as the womb: the foundry of our culture's deepest dreams.

There was mist floating on the ground above the soccer fields outside the central buildings. I thought about the e-mail and Bill and all of that, and I had this weird feeling—of how the presence of Bill floats about the Campus, semi-visible, at all times, kind of like the dead grandfather in the Family Circus cartoons. Bill is a moral force, a spectral force, a force that shapes, a force that molds. A force with thick, thick glasses.

I am danielu@microsoft.com. If my life was a game of Jeopardy! my seven dream categories would be:

  • Tandy products
  • Trash TV of the late '70s and early '80s
  • The history of Apple
  • Career anxieties
  • Tabloids
  • Plant life of the Pacific Northwest
  • Jell-O 1-2-3

I am a tester—a bug checker in Building Seven. I worked my way up the ladder from Product Support Services (PSS) where I spent six months in phone purgatory in 1991 helping little old ladies format their Christmas mailing lists on Microsoft Works.

Like most Microsoft employees, I consider myself too well adjusted to be working here, even though I am 26 and my universe consists of home, Microsoft, and Costco.

I am originally from Bellingham, up just near the border, but my parents live in Palo Alto now. I live in a group house with five other Microsoft employees: Todd, Susan, Bug Barbecue, Michael, and Abe.

We call ourselves "The Channel Three News Team."

I am single. I think partly this is because Microsoft is not conducive to relationships. Last year down at the Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Jose, I met a girl who works not too far away, at Hewlett-Packard on Interstate 90, but it never went anywhere. Sometimes I'll sort of get something going, but then work takes over my life and I bail out of all my commitments and things fizzle.

Lately I've been unable to sleep. That's why I've begun writing this journal late at night, to try to see the patterns in my life. From this I hope to establish what my problem is—and then, hopefully, solve it. I'm trying to feel more well adjusted than I really am, which is, I guess, the human condition. My life is lived day to day, one line of bug-free code at a time.

The house:

Growing up, I used to build split-level ranch-type homes out of Legos. This is pretty much the house I live in now, but its ambiance is anything but sterilized Lego-clean. It was built about twenty years ago, maybe before Microsoft was even in the dream stage and this part of Redmond had a lost, alpine ski-cabin feel.

Instead of a green plastic pad with little plastic nubblies, our house sits on a thickly-treed lot beside a park on a cul-de-sac at the top of a steep hill. It's only a seven-minute drive from Campus. There are two other Microsoft group houses just down the hill. Karla, actually, lives in the house three down from us across the street.

People end up living in group houses either by e-mail or by word of mouth. Living in a group house is a little bit like admitting you're deficient in the having-a-life department, but at work you spend your entire life crunching code and testing for bugs, and what else are you supposed to do? Work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep. I know a few Microsoft employees who try to fake having a life—many a Redmond garage contains a never-used kayak collecting dust. You ask these people what they do in their spare time and they say, "Uhhh—kayaking. That's right. I kayak in my spare time." You can tell they're faking it.

I don't even do many sports anymore and my relationship with my body has gone all weird. I used to play soccer three times a week and now I feel like a boss in charge of an underachiever. I feel like my body is a station wagon in which I drive my brain around, like a suburban mother taking the kids to hockey practice.

The house is covered with dark cedar paneling. Out front there's a tiny patch of lawn covered in miniature yellow crop circles thanks to the dietary excesses of our neighbor's German shepherd, Mishka. Bug Barbecue keeps his weather experiments—funnels and litmus strips and so forth—nailed to the wall beside the front door. A flat of purple petunias long-expired from neglect—Susan's one attempt at prettification—depresses us every time we leave for work in the morning, resting as it does in the thin strip of soil between the driveway and Mishka's crop circles.

Abe, our in-house multimillionaire, used to have tinfoil all over his bedroom windows to keep out what few rays of sun penetrated the trees until we ragged on him so hard that he went out and bought a sheaf of black construction paper at the Pay N Pak and taped it up instead. It looked like a drifter lived here. Todd's only contribution to the house's outer appearance is a collection of car-washing toys sometimes visible beside the garage door. The only evidence of my being in the house is my 1977 AMC Hornet Sportabout hatchback parked out front when I'm home. It's bright orange, it's rusty, and damnit, it's ugly. Microserfs
A Novel
. Copyright © by Douglas Coupland. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 22 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 8, 2011

    Highly Reccommended

    Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland is a novel about 1990s American tech culture. Set first in Redmond, Washington and later in the Silicon Valley, this novel centers around the lives of a group of programmers that work for Microsoft. The novel is narrated as a series of diary entries written by the main character, Daniel. At the start of the novel, Daniel is considered with the short life of a programmer, and how most programmers find themselves out of work when they are in their early fifties. He is also disenchanted with the fact that most employees at Microsoft are treated like corporate serfs whose sole purpose in life is to meet their shipping deadlines. After a while, his friend Michael decides to form a startup company and, after some thought, he and his friends move to the Valley to start their company. Meanwhile, Daniel¿s father is out of work and must look for a job, which is difficult to find for most people his age, sine their skills are outdated. Daniel¿s father decides to join his son and work for OOP. He becomes very close to Daniel¿s friend Michael, who just so happens to resemble Jed, Daniel¿s brother who died in a boating accident when the two were children. The novel then centers on the lives of Daniel and his friends as well as their relations with the rest of the tech world. This novel revolves around the themes of 1990s geek culture, the balance between work and social life, the history of Silicon Valley, the role of women in programming, and the place of faith in human thought.
    I personally enjoyed the novel because it gives the readers a realistic look at tech culture in the 1990s. The characters, whom are on a quest to find social lives amidst long workdays, little financial stability and a general sense of ¿techiness¿ are frightening similar to actual programmers who were in their mid-20s in the 1990s. The characters refer to common problems of working in the fast-paced field of the computer industry, such as the physical and social alienation from others, the shipping deadlines, the tendency to eat unhealthy food, the lack of sleep, and the lack of religious or spiritual orientation. In the attempt to find identities for themselves, the characters change their beliefs and their personalities so that they fit into their own ideal of perfection, which seems to be common among Valley techies. The novel portrays programmers to be a bunch of intelligent but misguided individuals without emotional stability. The novel basically serves to answer the question: Are we as a species becoming slaves to technology?

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  • Posted February 14, 2011

    Great Book

    I enjoy the style of Douglas Coupland's writing. Good stuff here. I read this after reading JPOD and now am on to Generation A. I have been very please with all three.

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  • Posted April 7, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Something different

    This is the book that got me hooked on Coupland. I'd picked it up randomly, not knowing what to expect, and could not put it down. It's not the plot, it's the characters. You cannot help rooting for them, even though they're not heroes at all, not even really nice people sometimes - but they are PEOPLE, very real, very tangible, very "everyday" people, whose lives go in all sorts of directions and they cope, not heroically, but rather in a stoic, one-day-at-a-time manner. The geeky terminology and the computer's journal will appeal to all the microserfs out there, but you don't need to be a geek to appreciate the stumbling, bumbling characters with their all-too human flaws. Brilliant book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2004

    People, not technology

    That's basically what the book is about. You've got to read it more than once - there's a lot to take in. If you take out all of the pop culture references and tech-speak, you're left with a bunch of people that take one hell of a journey - together and individually. The last line of the book (which I won't spoil) really sums up everything that came before it in a way that is damn near profound. To those that say the book has no plot, I'd argue that that's half the point. This isn't an A to B story. The beginning isn't the beginning, the end isn't the end. It's written as a journal and reads like a snippet taken from a memoir. This book (and indeed a lot of Coupland's books) adhere pretty closely to the adage 'life is a journey, not a destination.' If you really want to enjoy this book, read it twice. Or three times. Hell, I think I've read it at least a dozen times - every few months I'll pull this out and give it another read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2003

    Forget the tech, this is for everyone

    While I, myself, originally bought this book because it was supposedly about 'Microsoft and stuff,' I found it to be so much more than I ever would have imagined. Like the others that have reviewed this book, I say this isn't just for those steeped in the modern culture of computers. So much of the story is about anything *but* computers. Basically, the book is about Dan (written from his perspective), Karla, Susan, Bug, Todd, Ethan, Michael, Abe, and Dan's parents, along with smaller players Dusty, Amy, Emmett, and Anatole. It's about how these people, each different in their own way, deals with themselves, each other, and the world around them. This book, and I mean this in the most sincere way, is beautiful. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew these people as old friends, and I couldn't help thinking what my life would be like surrounded by people like this. This book also bears re-reading. I've been through it 8 or 9 times since I bought it, and it never gets old. I couldn't find the words to express how highly I recommend this book. It won't change your life, you won't get rich by reading it, and you're not going to impress people by reeling off quotes. But I guarantee, at the very least, it will put a bona fide smile on your face.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2002

    Interfacing with Life

    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a cog in the well-oiled machine of the PC age? Stop your search engines, because you¿ll get everything you need to know in Douglas Coupland¿s novel Microserfs. This book is rich in humor,programming, and the human condition, all wrapped up in a tasty package of C++ and soy drinks. The novel centers around Daniel Underwood, a twenty-something code cleaner at Microsoft. Along with his friends Todd, Bug, Abe, Karla, and Susan, he attempts to define his life as something other than a never-ending tribute to Bill Gates (¿B-B-B-Bill!!!¿ as he is known to Microsoft employees) and late night trips for cheese doodles. Complicating his search is his fifty-something father¿s recent job loss, his mother¿s concern for their sanity and finances, and his secret mourning for his brother Jed, who died as a child in a boating accident on Labor day. Throw in the fact that none of them really have a clue as to how ¿normal¿ people date and enjoy life and you¿ll see why Daniel is having such a difficult time with things! All that begins to change, though, when their friend Michael moves in with Daniel¿s parents in California and offers them all new jobs and a chance for a new life. A life that THEY can write the code for, not just reworking someone else¿s. Hungry for change and a chance to prove to themselves that they can do it, the entire group of them ends up making the move. What they learn about themselves and each other as they do their personal ¿upgrades¿ will delight and inspire you. This novel creates a world that anyone who has ever asked: ¿Where am I going? What am I doing?¿ can relate to, even if you¿ve never booted up a machine. If you¿re looking for something that powerfully describes the struggle we all face to achieve happiness, read this book. This ¿user¿ rates it a 10.0.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2000

    Geeks have feelings, too

    Despite occasional monologues that read like philosophy dissertations, the characters in this novel are real, flawed, and alive. They embark on their individual journeys of self-discovery unwittingly but sincerely. Some subplots have the potential to devolve into after-school-special style melodrama, but don't (thankfully!) due to Coupland's careful treatment of the characters, and the book's diary-like format. Coupland has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of geek subculture without simply regurgitating existing stereotypes. The book wanders across the line between the technological and the metaphysical, and comes to a surprisingly poetic and sincere conclusion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2000

    01101000010101001011010101010101111000010101010

    Talk about futurism... this 5+ year old novel still captures the zeitgeist of Silcon Valley. Damn funny with many boffos to be had, but be forewarned - Avoid the faux paus that is Po Bronson's 'The First $20 million is Always the Hardest' and support the revolution that is Douglas Coupland...!Viva Vancouver!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2000

    a timeless tale

    for me, microserfs was a beautiful story about contemporary culture. it is about the role technologies can play in healing our cultures. it is a critique of the concentration of power and a celebration of human - ness, of our vulnerabilities, failings and dreams. it is one of many stories which need telling in public.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 1999

    Macrohumorous

    This book pretty much rules, especially if you've ever considered yourself a computer geek. Some of the terminology is just a heche out of date (it's copyright 1995), but still very relevant and amusing. I wish these people were MY friends, even though the people in the book all seem to think each other losers.

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    Posted August 30, 2011

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