AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” is one of my all-time favorite shows. When it recently ended (and stuck the landing, might I add) I was craving something very niche – a humane look at the tech world in the 1990s, and the people in that world.
Thank goodness for the Net, because the Halt and Catch Fire’s subreddit developed a recommended reading list. That’s how I found writer/artist Douglas Coupland’s microserfs. It’s a novel about some low level Microsoft employees (microserfs) who decide to strike out on their own in California.
While it’s a novel, it feels more like non-fiction. While reading it I often wondered whether it was semiautobiographical. I know Coupland is a prolific writer and artist, but I’m not sure how much of this book is from his own life. If it’s not, I’m even more impressed because the world he creates is very lived in. His characters’ tech musings were prescient, to say the least. The book was published in 1995 and it brings up many social issues we face today.
Told as a long series of journal entries on a PowerBook, the book covers several years as Dan the protagonist and his motley band of nerdy friends grow from something tech worker units into real people. For various reasons, they want more out of life than serving as drones working long hours at a stable giant organization. When one of their friend group starts his own company in California, they go with him. Along the way they explore life outside of the screen, philosophy, relationships, bodies, Vegas, and more. In one sense, it’s kind of like a stilted coming of age story. However, Coupland’s writing elevates the book into more than that. There are times when simple little sweet scenes really provide a gut punch of what living feels like, and those reminded me so much of Halt and Catch Fire that I’ll hold on to my copy of this book for an occasional re-read.