Player One by Douglas Coupland

A review of the literary thriller novel Player One by Douglas Coupland.

Player One: What Is to Become of Us is a ‘real-time five-hour story’ that is set in an airport. It follows the lives of five diverse people all trapped by a global disaster. Each chapter is devoted to one of the five: Rick (the barman), Karen (single mother), Luke (the pastor), Rachel (the pretty, but odd one) and Player One (the voice). These five characters tell the story from their own perspective. Written in a mixture of past and present tense, the truth about the five people slowly emerges.

I chose this book because it seemed like an interesting premise: real-time, five hours, and a global disaster; what more could you want?

As I’ve mentioned, each chapter is dedicated to one of the five characters. This means that the real-time part of the story you get to read five times. Great if the accounts are vastly different but they aren’t. In between the real-time parts are the stories of the characters themselves. Yes, I hear you say, at last some character development and depth. Not quite. One by one the ‘heroes’ gives a monologue-esque account of their thoughts and feelings about God, time and love.

When time is used up, does it go to some kind of place like a junkyard? Or down a river like the waters beneath Niagara Falls? Does time evaporate and turn into rain and start all over again?

Player One by Douglas Coupland

This is a quote from Karen, the lonely single mum who has flown countless miles to meet a man she has only spoken to online hoping he could be the one. Would you really be thinking about time? More likely you’d be thinking what have I done? How can I get away? I wonder if he’s already booked that hotel room.

Why is it when people are trapped they are either incompetent, losers, arrogant know-it-alls, or just defined by being pretty?

We find out Rick is a recovering alcoholic, Luke has lost his faith, Rachel has problems relating to and understanding the people around her and Player One, I have no idea what point the voice has.

I must admit I was expecting the global disaster to be either aliens, nuclear war or even zombies not something anti-climatic as the price of oil going up. I do understand that this would quickly cause problems: looting, syphoning petrol, and eventually martial law. This could have led to opportunities for greater interaction (not a discussion about God) with not only each other but the outside world. There was some mediocre description of some random explosions, a shooting and a chemical smog. I wanted a lot more. It was an ideal opportunity to create some real excitement and tension.

The book is not badly written. It is difficult to adapt to reading in present tense, for some reason it doesn’t feel right. The characters are all unlikeable and I didn’t care what happened to them. Lastly, I found the ending made no sense whatsoever. I don’t like books that try and leave an open-ended finale, not that I really cared what happened to the five in the future. It felt as if it was being left open for a sequel. The last 31 pages are a glossary of made up nonsensical terms. I didn’t need these explained as I’m not stupid and most are self-explanatory if you read the book.

The blurb said the book would ‘ask more questions than it answers and readers will leave the story with no doubt that we are in a new phase of existence as a species-and that there is no turning back.’ It didn’t ask me any questions apart from ‘huh?’ I was left with no doubt that I wasted at least five hours reading this self-indulgent drivel.

Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.

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