Microserfs, like the rest of Douglas Coupland's novels, is more literary impressionism than plot-driven story. Published in 1995 by HarperCollins, it focuses on a small group of low-level Microsoft employees who leave to found their own start-up. They live together, work together, romance one another, and argue. Mostly, they talk about their surroundings. The book is much less about what they do than what they are, how they go about being what they are, and how they feel about it.
Coupland's writing style is, as usual, disjointed and flighty, which can be off-putting to people who aren't used to it. The Sesame Street and MTV generations handle it with more aplomb than older readers, who tend to get frustrated. When reading Douglas Coupland's books, it's vital not to expect much of a plot. The story is a necessary evil, not the reason for writing. Once you're ready for that, you'll be OK.
Microserfs's conceit is that it's the diary of the central character (it would be misleading to call him a hero or protagonist), Dan. The diary format makes it easy for Coupland to offer the usual massive array of notes on pop-culture that make his writings fall somewhere between social commentary and observational stand-up comedy in book form. Dan riffs on everything from geek fashion to the differences between Apple and Microsoft to the moment of odd reflection precipitated by mistyping a date. These notes are simultaneously throwaway lines and the whole foundation of the book.
Often, the notes come through fictitious ephemera thrown into the diary scrapbook-style: Christmas lists, copied-and-pasted e-mails, lists of items at a garage sale. The sense of being a voyeur is strong.
One doesn't have to be a geek to identify with Coupland's characters, though it helps. Anyone who came of age in the Reagan years, growing up with ubiquitous consumer electronics, branding, and the budding yuppie ethic will understand precisely where they're coming from, even if they're in a different line of work. Coupland's willingness to refer to real brand-names, people, cartoons, and places (often unkindly) increases the characters' realism. It also reflects a culture where status is achieved by ownership, not accomplishment, a shift in the real world many modern artistic creations don't acknowledge.
When Microserfs was released, geeks everywhere snapped up copies, delighted to have a version of Generation X written just for them. Once they'd read it, reactions were mixed; many criticized Coupland's portrayal of geek culture as too extreme. That's semi-fair -- the characters' lack of serious interest in much other than their work and themselves sometimes seems to approach nihilism. But, like Generation X, Microserfs isn't journalism, it's art. One doesn't have to be an übergeek to "get" Microserfs, any more than one has to be a hopeless slacker to understand Generation X.
Microserfs came out just as Silicon Valley was becoming the only possible destination in North America for young capitalists and geeks with dreams, and it seemed positively prescient. It would be interesting to find out what Dan, Abe, Ethan, Karla, Todd, and Michael are up to now that the gold rush is over and it's gotten a lot tougher to become a paper millionaire.