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“Karen likes crossword puzzles because they make time pass quickly.”

I am nearly at the end of my Coupland re-reads – there’s just one more to go now – so it seems like a good time to recap. There is something oddly familiar about this novel, and not just because I last read it in 2011, making it the most recent re-read on this blog so far. It also forms the second book so far in 2015 alone that takes place in a Canadian airport during an end of the world scenario. Most notably of all, however, it references every single one of Coupland’s previous novels. I’ll give you a rundown of the plot and then explain more.

Player One is perhaps a modern day horror story. In a shabby cocktail bar at the airport in Toronto, four strangers find themselves interacting with one another. There’s Karen, a single mother who has come there to meet a man she’s been talking to online; Rick, the bartender who regrets screwing up his life and wondering where it all went wrong; Luke, a pastor who has just lost his faith in God and stolen twenty thousand dollars from his church and is now on the run; and Rachel, a highly autistic young woman who breeds white mice and is only there to meet a man so she can have a baby and prove to her father that she is a worthwhile human being.

The four find themselves talking and contemplating the messes their lives are in, when suddenly the scrolling news channel makes a shocking announcement: oil is up to $250 a barrel. As they watch, the number creeps ever higher, and then the TV goes out. When they establish an Internet connection, they find the price is rising higher still and the world is going mad. The airport shuts down and gas stations across the world are raided and now empty. The world collapses within minutes. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are chemical explosions happening on the horizon and there’s a sniper on the roof of the cocktail lounge.

The story is told in real time over five hours – the first hour shows the four main characters getting into the lounge, and then the next four are the first four hours of the apocalypse. Each chapter is split into five, retelling events from the points of view of Karen, Rick, Luke and Rachel, and then from the point of view of Player One, an extra omniscient character who fills in the rest, as if narrating a film or video game. While the speed at which everything happens seems insane, something keeps you hooked and you get just as caught up in the unfolding drama as the characters do.

What makes this book so familiar, however, is that Coupland doesn’t just reference previous novels, returning to themes like loneliness (Eleanor Rigby), faith (Life After God) and autism (jPod), but takes whole chunks of text from them and pastes them down here again, giving his new characters the same thoughts as his previous narrators. If you’ve never read a Coupland book before, you wouldn’t know, and last time I read this, I didn’t pick up on them all, but this time they shone through. It works, though, as if showing how we’re not all that different after all, if the characters of Player One are thinking the same things as those in Girlfriend In A Coma, Hey Nostradamus! and Generation X. It’s a smart, smooth call back and it works within the novel.

The resolution is cleared up a little bit too neatly for my liking, but it’s not bad. The novel originally existed as a series of lectures that Coupland delivered for the 2010 Massey Lectures, each one taking an hour each to complete, meaning that the book itself can easily be read in five hours, making it truly real-time. Coupland is smart, as usual, too. While most of it reads the way his books tend to, the parts told from Rachel’s persepective are oddly mechanical, which further highlights the fact that she cannot understand or process humour or metaphor.

In another traditional moment of Couplandism, at the back is a glossary of “future terms”; words and phrases that describe experiences that are unique to this period of history. I’ve shared some of my favourites below.

Denarration: The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

Fictive Rest: The common inability of many people to be able to sleep until they have read even the tiniest amount of fiction.

Omniscience Fatigue: The burnout that comes with being able to know the answer to almost anything online.

Rosenwald’s Theorem: The belief that all the wrong people have self-esteem.

Web Sentience Release: The belief that this newly evolved web sentience will relieve people of the crushing need to be individual.

If you’ve not read Coupland before, I wouldn’t start with this one, as while it’s good and does indeed use some of the best lines from his other works, this isn’t his finest novel. However, the concepts are high, the characters interesting and the plot certainly packs a punch, with unexpected twists at every other turn.  If nothing else, it may screw your head up a little bit with all its talk of whether time really exists, and where it goes once it’s used up…

If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, why not try my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, the tale of a cannibal, a god and a journalist on a mission to get what they really want, no matter who has to be eaten to get it.