Dtoid book review: jPod

 While strolling through my friendly neighborhood coporate bookstore, I caught a glimpse of a book with silly Lego people on the cover. How weird. Not wanting to drop 30 bones on a book of questionable quality, and finding no paperback counterpart, I decided to go the frugal route and get it from my campus library. When Douglas Coupland wrote jPod last year, I doubt he knew how much it would piss me off. Also, he probably would’ve wanted me to torrent it, now that I think about it.

That’s right, kids, video games aren’t everything. There are things like movies, music, and books to quench your thirst for escapism. Which brings me to my next point: the Dtoid review of jPod by Douglas Coupland, appearing in techinicolor, after the jump.

I’m going to start off by describing the scene in my living room upon finishing the book: I threw the book on to the ground, and got up and said, “…motherfucker.”

And that’s it.

I have never, ever read a book in which I hate all of the characters. Not a one of them has any redeeming qualities. I wanted to empathaize with Ethan, the protagonist, until I realized that he was a spineless twit with a penchant for getting into other people’s messes. The least pathetic character smuggles people for a living. His trick is that he gets them addicted to heroin first. Real classy. Worst of all is that Coupland makes himself a character in his own book, and, you guessed, he’s a real winner.

As a social commentary, it’s pretty sad that Coupland paints such a bleak picture, even of himself. The end is, by traditional standards, a happy one, but it depicts a happiness based on selling out and becoming a corporate automaton.

But what does this have to do with video games? All of the characters work in jPod, a division of a game developing company in which everyone’s last name begins with the letter J. jPod becomes its own sort of bizarre entity, weirder than the sum of its parts. The unnamed developing company (the Internets say it’s based on EA, but I would’ve missed it if I weren’t already looking for it) is in the process of including a friendly turtle into its Gen-X skateboarding game, much to the chagrin of everyone involved. Since jPod is, essentially, about techies, it is full of pop-culture and video game references. Literary critics call it Zeitgeist, but I prefer calling it name-dropping blogfodder.

Similarly, the text is very … aesthetic, in that it’s full of these little puzzles and random inserted phrases and visual tomfoolery that is designed to reflect the nature of video game culture — haphazard, weird, fast-paced. This type of stream of consciousness vibe is found througout the book, and the very last page reads, “Play again? y/n.”

That really is the ultimate message of this book, that everything is played again, a cynical statement about corporate life, our throwaway, recycleable society, etc. Blah Blah. Even the book’s plot is totally circular, like one of those neato Mobius strips you had to make in 4th grade out of construction paper. It’s almost as if Coupland is constantly condescending — his readers, his characters, and even himself. But really, it’s because the characters are so useless, and because the situations are so hyperbolic, and because Coupland is so holier-than-thou that the book is as powerful as it is.

All in all, jPod is a very fast paced, expertly written book that manages to make the reader empathize with really shitty characters by reminding them of their own shortcomings … all under the witty and clever backdrop of the techie video game world. Unfortunately, an otherwise enjoyable book is dampered somewhat by Coupland’s visual shenanigans and mis-en-abime, metafiction, post-modern whatever. However ambitious, the avant-garde extras sometimes fall flat.

In my infinite wisdom, I give Douglas Coupland’s jPod an 8/10. Do you guys have any suggestions for a game-related book review?

Joseph Leray