Doomsday has long been a subject of interest for Douglas Coupland. In Generation X, his debut, one character tells a story about the end of the world. In Girlfriend in a Coma the end of the world is a central plot point. Player One takes this theme along with other Coupland obsessions such as pop culture, technology and sexuality and sets them in a narrative that takes place over five hours in an airport cocktail lounge during a global disaster.
Five people are trapped inside: Karen, a 40-ish single mother waiting for her online date; Rick, the alcoholic bartender; Luke, a pastor on the run from his flock from whom he has stolen $20k; Rachel, a stunning blonde girl who has autism; and finally a mysterious voice known as Player One.
The disaster is predicated on the idea that the planet’s oil resources are running out and mass panic ensues as the price of oil hits $1,000 a barrel. Society begins to breakdown and during the story the characters have to contend with a blackout, fallout from chemical explosions and a crazed sniper.
I have always been a rabid fan of Coupland’s, with Girlfriend in a Coma, Shampoo Planet and JPod being my favourite of his works. It’s been a few years since I’ve read anything by him and something about Player One just didn’t work for me. The prose seemed a little simple, Coupland has riffed extensively on these ideas before, and there just didn’t seem to be his usual energy in the writing.
Player One was conceived as Coupland’s contribution to Canada’s Massey Lectures, a week long series of lectures on a political, cultural or philosophical topic that takes place every November. I think that Coupland ended up creating a book that is neither a traditional lecture nor a brilliant novel. It hasn’t affected my opinion of him – he’s written too many great books for a not so great one to put me off – but if you are a Coupland neophyte I’d recommend starting with the books mentioned above and leave Player One aside.