First, I read Douglas Coupland’s novel “Microserfs” in 2008, published in Russian in 2004. I already knew at the moment that it’s kind of cult book and … it didn’t impress me. In fact, I forced myself to finish reading. When I moved to Seattle and started work in Microsoft in 2012 I decided to read more books in English. At same time, my brother ask me about this book, does it resemble MS workers reality and so on. I read it again, now in original English. And let me tell you: this time book just catch my attention and didn’t let me go during whole narrative.
Later I found possible explanation for this experience difference. Russian version by N. Feduro got a prize in nomination “Worst translation of the year” in “Books of Russia” festival 2005. It’s not only incorrectly translated some technical words like “chips” (like Lays) instead of “microchips”, translate “thinkpad” as “синькпад” instead of leave it as is, but also lack of solid geeky atmosphere of original book. It was replace by disparate jokes without neat context. Also, the novel has typographical incuts, often few pages of repeated phrase or semi-random words. They also translated poorly.
Lets return to the original book. If you a Seattle resident you will immediately find familiar landmarks. Safeway in Bellevue, Redmond campus, I-90, 99 highway. Narrator Daniel and his friends work in Microsoft’s building 7. You should know where it is? Right? No, there is no building 7 in Microsoft campus and it’s a nice poke from Coupland. Second part of the novel takes place in Bay Area. There are funny moments about San Francisco and Silicon Valley and how software people are different there and in the Seattle area.
In the moneyed world of Silicon Valley, nothing is uncooler than being broke. Karla and I were both curious to see how Ann and Jorge live. When we arrived, I was overwhelmed by the hipness factor. And where are the GEEKS? Everyone was dressed… like real people. Where were the ironic fridge magnets? The futons? The IKEA furniture? The Nerf products? The house looked as though it had been made over by Martha Stewart. There were REAL couches, obviously purchased NEW, in red velvet with gold and silver silk throw pillows; Matisse-derived area rugs; little candles everywhere; a REAL dining table with SIX chairs around it in its OWN ROOM with vases and bowls full of pine cones on the mantel. These people were like ADULTS … seamless!
First chapter contains Daniel’s working email address. There is a person with this address in Microsoft! I sent him an email. Real Daniel works in Spanish Microsoft and he helped with Spanish translation of the novel, so he got this tiny piece of honor as a complement. Daniel said it was long time ago when last person before me write something about the book to him. Well, yeah, the novel is almost 20 years old. But it’s cool that he still works in MS and you can send an email to address from a book and get a reply.
I don’t want to go deep in the plot to avoid spoilers. The action takes place in early 90s, when Microsoft had just became a big company. But it still was possible for developer to have a meeting with Bill Gates. The name “Microserfs” looks like a reprobation. But narration doesn’t show negative to Microsoft. Characters are sharp and solid. They are hard-workers, for most of them work replace personal life. But it’s not shown as something bad. Later, they become more mature and found their soulmates.
For me most important part of the novel is a Daniel and his friends and family interaction, they hilarious, geeky humor. They often talk about life, technologies, pop culture, relations.
Many geeks don’t really have a sexuality—they just have work. I think the sequence is that they get jobs at Microsoft or wherever right out of school, and they’re so excited to have this “real” job and money that they just figure that the relationships will naturally happen, but then they wake up and they’re thirty and they haven’t had sex in eight years.
Some side stories, don’t really affect the plot. Reminds me xkcd comics.
From behind the fabric-covered disassemblable wall partitions of our office I heard Emmett mumble to Susan: “Hey, Sooz—want to go out tonight?” “I don’t know, Emm …” “Hey, it’ll be great. We can listen in on cellular calls with my Radio Shack Pro-46 scanner—I altered its megahertz range with a soldering gun—or maybe listen to some crank calls I have on tape—hack a few passwords. Grab some calzones …” Susan played it cool: “Uh huh—I’ll, umm, think on it.” But the moment Emmett was out of sight, Susan instant-mailed Karla and they scurried down to the street for a debriefing, Susan’s hoop earrings jangling like Veronica Lodge’s tambourine. Karla told me afterward that Susan said it was the best date proposal she’d ever had. “Dream date!”
In conclusion, I highly recommend you Microserfs if you familiar with Seattle or Bay area and your work relate to software development