Microserfs

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MicroserfsMicroserfs by Douglas Coupland
Published: 1995
Length: 371 pages

This one took me ages and ages to get through. It’s a good example of the sort of book I need to learn to put down and come back to later – not a bad book, but one I just wasn’t feeling it at that moment. Instead I did my usual, suffered through, and essentially stopped reading. Maybe one of these days I’ll learn, but most likely not.

This is the story of a group of Microsoft programmers in the early 90s who leave the company to form a start-up in Silicon Valley. It’s written as journal entries on the protagonist’s PowerBook. It’s a fun trip back to that decade, and while you’d think all of the pop culture references would leave it horribly dated, the central themes the characters obsess over – finding meaning in what you do, balancing work and personal life, health, love, loss – are all timeless. The nerdy side of it even feels quite fresh and forward-thinking for the time. They were developing something similar to Minecraft in their start-up, and the idea of trying to make it big with a small start-up is easily as relevant today as it was back then.

It’s a simple plot, a techie slice-of-life novel, which I found very relatable as a programmer in the future version of this world. But the characters all felt a bit flat to me. They just didn’t come to life at all, and while they worked as vessels for Coupland to present his hilarious and interesting philosophical musings and rambling observations through, they left me with no attachment to the story. He did do a brilliant job near the end of finally bringing in actual human emotion, but that could have hit so much harder if I had felt anything prior to that.

I really wish I had read this in the 90s. I would have absolutely loved it. Reading it now just made me want to re-read JPod, a mid-2000s take on a programmer’s life and the spiritual successor to Microserfs, which I see now isn’t nearly as similar as I was led to believe. I typically find Coupland’s novels to be entertaining and quick reads, and despite my issues this time, I think I could return to it at some point and get a lot more from it. This time, it was just alright.

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