creative [kree-ey-tiv]: adjective. Synonyms: clever, cool, innovative, inspired, prolific, stimulating.

criticism [krit-uh-siz-uhm]: noun. The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

29 Apr 2010

Generation A - Douglas Coupland

"Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favors when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."
So said Kurt Vonnegut during the Syracuse University commencement address of 1994. I read it after the title page, and before the story proper began in Douglas Coupland's latest bit of dystopian fiction, Generation A.
Now, this 297-page novel isn't set in a future that far away; most of the technology and slang showcased already exist. As for it being set in a dystopian future, the signs aren't all up in your face as you start the novel; they're just mentioned as a matter of fact at various points in the book, and treated as perfectly normal by the characters. After all, they live in this world, they've had years to get used to everything. Amongst other things, they treat it as normal that:
  1. Bees are believed to be extinct (before I read the quote above, I thought that maybe the "A" in the title had to do with "abeilles", bees, but I guess not)
  2. Most insects have also disappeared
  3. As a result, there are no flowers anywhere except where people hand-pollinate them
  4. Fruits are also ridiculously expensive, and the black market thrives
  5. There's basically no petrol left; air travel is only for the very rich now
  6. There's this new "chronosuppressant" drug called Solon that shifts people's perception of time and of the future; as a result, people can live without any sense of loneliness even if they are in total social isolation, anxiety about the future can disappear, and time can seem to pass much faster.
  7. This drug is 100% addictive
  8. This drug is also actually composed of the spliceosomic protein snRNP-171, which removes introns from pre-mRNA strands so that this mRNA strand codes for a neuroprotein that has a chronosuppressant effect. (You're allowed to say "whaaaaat?")
Now that we've got the dystopian elements in play, let me quickly introduce the quirky characters Coupland has come up with this time:
  1. Harj, from Sri Lanka; he's lost his entire family in the 2006 tsunami, and he talks and thinks like a sales brochure. Which makes sense considering what he's done with his life since 2007.
  2. Zack, from Iowa; he's a corn farmer and son of a meth chemist, who is introduced to the reader when he rants about how "Cornfields are the scariest things on the entire fucking face of the planet." He sounds a lot like T-Rex from Dinosaur Comics, at times, but with more swearing.
  3. Sam(antha) from New Zealand, who isn't a very memorable character.
  4. Julien from France (more specifically Paris, 12e arrondissement), another somewhat generic character (by Coupland standards)
  5. Diana, the Baptist dental hygienist from North Bay (Canada), who has Tourette's syndrome as well as a pretty graphically violent imagination.
These five characters were the center of a media/scientific/government/international frenzy when they were all stung by bees. Yes, bees came out of extinction to sting them. Weird stuff ensues, and pharmaceutical companies become shadier and shadier.
This novel was pretty entertaining, not the least because it's slightly unhinged, like the best of Douglas Coupland's novels. It wasn't depressing like The Gum Thief, it wasn't as quirky as jPod, and I actually like it better than Generation X (because let's face it, most first novels aren't that great, especially if the author writes more books).
I also particularly enjoyed the research that went into making Solon into a credible-sounding drug; spliceosomes are made of snRNP (small nucleic ribonucleoproteins), and they do remove introns from pre-mRNA (pre-messenger ribonucleic acid) segments, and release the introns to be quickly broken down by nucleases. And mRNA is the template that's followed to create proteins. But proteins take a lot of energy to make, and when things are done to neurons neurotransmitters are usually involved instead of proteins. Now, neurotransmitters can be amino acids (which are the building-blocks of proteins), but I am not sure that proteins - big, complicated proteins which would be coded by a mRNA strand that needed the removal of specific introns - would be effective neurotransmitters, even assuming that "chronosuppression" is possible. I'm not a neuroscientist (yet), though, so don't take my word for it.
Oh well, it's a dystopian novel, not a how-to manual!

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