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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Douglas Coupland (version
Having given us Generation X and Microserfs, author Douglas Coupland has done his fair share of charting changes in the modern world. But, he tells BBC News Online's Giles Wilson, he's been expecting this recent grim turn of events.

In the time it takes for you to read this article, Douglas Coupland will have subtly detected a new trend.

So relentlessly up-to-date has his work been that it makes you wonder what he did before there was a zeitgeist.

His 1991 classic pop novel Generation X defined and - arguably - helped perpetuate the drifting, slacker, disengagement which marked its time. Just as Windows 95 was released, his book Microserfs revealed some old truths about working in the new economy. And then in 1998, Girlfriend in a Coma tapped into end-of-century disenchantment.

Pharmaceutical paranoia

So what about these strange days? When writing his new book, All Families are Psychotic, Coupland fell out with his US publishers who felt the book - a bizarre tale of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, disease and drugs - would be too uncommercial.

Douglas Coupland with 'Green Soldier Number One'
Douglas Coupland with 'Green Soldier Number One'
And yet, unhappily, the grim resonance it has found will make it only too marketable.

"In my mind, this book was dead in the water before it even came out," Coupland says. "But now it turns out that its dealing with weird issues of biological and chemical paranoia, a deep distrust of pharmaceuticals and substances and - I suppose you could say - 'white powders'."

In a world in which Hollywood disaster movies no longer look inconceivable, All Families is a tale where anything can happen. Its cast includes:
• Sarah, an astronaut who has one hand, a result of her mother taking thalidomide during pregnancy
• Janet, her elderly mother, who now joins dodgy chat rooms, and is HIV positive
• Wade, Janet's son, a womaniser who is also HIV positive, and who infected his own mother when shielding her from a bullet which passed through him and into her
• Ted, Wade's father, who fired the gun when he found out Wade had slept with Ted's new young wife
• Nickie, that young wife, who also is HIV positive, having slept with Wade.

There are others, of course, but you get the drift.

Software upgrade

Coupland's love of technology has cemented his appeal among readers of a certain age. And although this new book is more about biotech than hi-tech, he cannot hide his old enthusiasms.

Life, he says, is like a software upgrade.

"When you're born, you're version 1.0. But every time you're given a new technology you're given a significant upgrade, so we learn to speak and go to 2.0, then you learn your irregular verbs and it's version 2.1 and so on.

patty hearst
Patty Hearst: Remember the bad times?
"I'm 39 so I must be version With every significant upgrade, some new aspect of your personality which you might never have known existed is manifested.

"My mother, at the age of 62, decided: 'Dammit, I'm tired of being out of the loop, I want to know what's going on'. So she went out, got her own hardware and service provider and now, gosh, it's that Cocoon thing - she's a whole new person!"

Kids today

"She's very strong, very powerful, very curious and very organising. Had this never entered her life we would have thought: 'Oh she was very quiet, she was very observant and observing but never talked very much about things'."

Where was I when I was five? I was out in the back yard eating dirt

And then there are kids today. "Oh God, they are so smart," he says. "My nephew is five, and he knows Mac and PC, and he's numerate and he can go online, he can keyboard and can navigate these embarrassingly complex CD-Rom games.

"Where was I when I was five? I was out in the back yard eating dirt. So something's going on here. We're getting these whole new versions of human beings happening."

There's a certain kind of inbred glumness, a darkness, to people like myself who came of age during the frostiest part of the cold war

What on earth would a turbo-charged Coupland, one who hadn't eaten dirt, be able to achieve, one wonders?

Here is a man, blessed with a slight self-consciousness which seems typical of Canadians who know they are not Americans, who has published eight books in the last decade, is an accomplished sculptor, and - get this - is also publishing a book in Japanese which is to be distributed via mobile phones. He does not lack creativity.


And yet this gravelly-voiced Renaissance man is not particularly filled with optimism for the world, particularly since 11 September.

"I'm not surprised any of this is happening. I've actually been waiting... I think I'm not alone in that. There's a certain kind of inbred glumness, a darkness, to people like myself who came of age during the frostiest part of the cold war 70s.

Clinton and Lewinsky
And remember the good times?
"I remember things not working, I remember Baader-Meinhoff, I remember Patty Hearst. I always wondered how it had gone dormant for so long."

So does the arch chronicler think this age will be defined by that September morning?

"Well it was certainly the christening of the ship," he says. "Up until then there had not been very much on the global agenda. There was so little going on that all people could talk about was whether the US president had a fling with an intern. I think we can all look back, even from the vantage point of a year, at that as being the acme of frivolity.

"It really does seem like a million years away now."

Impeachment nostalgia? That's a trend no-one else spotted.

Douglas Coupland
on the rise and fall of fax machines
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