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|Cover artist||Will Webb|
|Publication date||9 May 2006|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||528 (Canadian Hardback), 448 (USA hardback)|
|Preceded by||Eleanor Rigby|
|Followed by||The Gum Thief|
JPod is a novel by Douglas Coupland published by Random House of Canada in 2006. Set in 2005, the book explores the strange and unconventional everyday life of the main character, Ethan Jarlewski, and his team of video game programmers whose last names all begin with the letter 'J'.
JPod was adopted as a CBC television series co-written by Douglas Coupland. It premiered on January 8, 2008, and ran until its cancellation on March 7, 2008, leaving the series with a permanent cliffhanger. The first thirteen episodes of the series aired in the United States on The CW Television Network.
JPod is an avant-garde novel of six young adults, whose last names all begin with the letter 'J' and who are assigned to the same cubicle pod by someone in human resources through a computer glitch, working at Neotronic Arts, a fictional Burnaby-based video game company. Ethan Jarlewski is the novel's main character and narrator, who spends more time involved with his work than with his dysfunctional family. His stay-at-home mother runs a successful marijuana grow-op which allows his father to abandon his career and work as a futile movie extra. Ethan's realtor brother Greg involves himself with Asian crime lord Kam Fong who serves as the plot's crux of character connection.
The JPod staff are required to insert a turtle character based on Jeff Probst into the skateboard game that they are developing as 'BoardX'. The marketing manager, Steven Lefkowitz, mandates the turtle's addition to the game because he is trying to please his son during a custody battle. JPod is then drastically challenged and changed when Steve goes missing and the new executive replacement declares that the game will be changed yet again. Upper management decides to change Jeff the turtle for an adventurous prince who rides a magic carpet. The game is then renamed "SpriteQuest". The JPodders, upset that they would not be able to finish their game, decide to sabotage SpriteQuest by inserting a deranged Ronald McDonald. They do this by creating a secret level where Ronald works malevolence, thus creating, in their opinion, a culturally-suitable game for the target market.
Ethan begins to date the newest addition to JPod, Kaitlin, and their relationship grows as she discovers that most of the members of the team, including herself, are mildly autistic. Kaitlin develops a hugging machine after researching how autistic people enjoy the sensation of pressure from non-living things on their skin.
Douglas Coupland, as a character, is inserted into the novel when Ethan visits China to bring a heroin-addicted Steve back to Canada. This Google-version of Douglas Coupland consistently bumps into Ethan and manages to weave himself into the narrator's life. JPod finds itself in a digital world where technology is everything and the human mind is incapable of focusing on just one task.
JPod has been received with mixed reception from literary critics. Some felt it is just an unsuccessful update of Microserfs, with no added substance, while others enjoyed its entertaining style and satire.
Favourable reviews of JPod largely focus on its entertaining qualities arising from the improbable-probable lives and quirks of the characters. As a Post-Gutenberg novel JPod is recognized for reflecting the fragmented state of the technology saturated generation, illustrating this generation’s inability to concentrate on one item for more than a few seconds.
John Elk’s review of JPod comments on the novel being an affirmative updating of Coupland’s previous Microserfs, for the "Google generation". Coupland is mentioned as being “possibly the most gifted exegete of North American mass culture writing today”, with JPod being “his strongest, best-observed novel since Microserfs." JPod is described as an engaging book, with bizarre characters and devices making it “definitely worth the read” and while it is “not fully satisfying, it is entertaining”.
Another review of JPod describes how the fragmentation of the book relates to the autistic characteristics of the characters. The book is about the technology and video game generation, who “paradoxically have superhuman powers on concentration, yet can’t seem to focus on anything”. This message is brought up throughout the book, which tends to provoke the reader to really think about the effects of technology on our society.
On the other hand, many critics were frustrated and irritated by the book. Dennis Lim of The Village Voice called it “smug, vacuous, easily distracted, and often supremely irritating”. He did note, however, that this “may be purposeful, but it's not in service of a meaningful larger point—unless you count the unmissable observation that too much information is, like, overwhelming”. John Elk said that Coupland “is neither a master of plot nor of characterization”, and his characters were also called “hollowed-out cartoons”.
Coupland was further criticized by critics like David Daley of USA Today, who wrote that “subtlety still eludes Coupland” and that his “relentless riffing can be exhausting”. The 41 pages spent listing digits of pi, for example, were found by many to be pointless and, as Patrick Ness noted, “lazily assembled”. As well, many critics found that Coupland’s appearance as a character was annoying, “narcissistic” and “an obvious and sort of sad attempt to turn [himself] into a cultural icon”. Other critics wondered if Coupland simply inserted himself because he didn’t know how else to end it.
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