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Required Reading: Douglas Coupland’s new book is about five torturous hours

When Douglas Coupland was asked to give this year’s Massey Lectures, he bucked the event’s long-standing non-fiction tradition and produced a new novel instead (a single chapter will be read at each of the five venues across the country). Player One: What Is to Become of Us is a real-time thriller that chronicles a very bad five hours in the lives of five people trapped in an airport cocktail lounge at the beginning of the end of the world. (At least there’s booze.)

Why did you choose to write the lecture as a novel?
I went to Wade Davis’s Massey Lecture last year. There’s no way I could do what he did, which was a straightforward school-like lecture. I love being in front of people, but that isn’t my style. So I had to figure out a way to put forth a dense array of ideas on the notion of time, the body, consciousness, story, technology and so forth.

And how did you do that?
I wanted it to be a crystallization of everything I’ve been doing over the past 20 years with books. I asked my fan club, for lack of a better word, for advice, and they went through everything I’ve ever written and extracted anything remotely aphoristic. Certain themes and threads emerged. It’s kind of like putting 20 years of thinking into Superman’s hands and having him crush it into a diamond.

Player One contains something called Doug’s Law: “You can have information or you can have a life, but you can’t have both.” Why not?
There’s that weird sense you get, at 11 at night, when you realize you’ve spent three hours looking at cute cats on YouTube. That your life is richer for the experience is debatable. You could have been out whitewater rafting or gardening. Your life is either a wave or a particle, but never both.

Do you spend much time playing video games or entering virtual worlds like Second Life?
I used to like arcade games a lot, but I’ve never had any use for Second Life or that kind of thing. When would I do it? This month is reading month for me. I’m not reading as much as I used to, so I’m putting some time aside just for books.

What are you reading?
I just finished David Mitchell’s terrific The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Your own book is obsessed with perceptions of time. What did you want to say about this moment in history?
Is time something that goes at a constant rate, or does it speed up and slow down? It seems to be speeding up right now.

Is an excess of information warping our sense of time?
It’s certainly playing havoc with our sense of cultural history, where we were, where we might be going.

Massey lectures: Player One
Oct. 29. Convocation Hall.

(Photograph by Ken Mayer Studio; photo-illustration by Wes Duvall)

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