By Cory Doctorow
Makers is a science fiction novel, although, like many of Cory Doctorow's books, it is actually just as much a novel of economic fiction, a tale of how the world could work in the near future if individuals started taking on the corporate world using new technologies. Like most of his novels, it is available for free download online or in hard copy through reputable booksellers everywhere.
The story starts with journalist Suzanne Church, who is sent to cover the production side of a new mode of investment -- large companies investing in small, semi-independent inventing teams to bring new ideas to market quickly, producing flash-in-the-pan consumerism fads that can turn a quick buck before the next Small Thing comes along. She finds a couple of odd eccentrics working out of a junkyard in Florida: Perry and Lester are hardcore firmware hackers, turning networks of surplussed animatronic Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls into crude, macro-scale utility fog, making post-industrial clockpunk difference engines, and playing with the remains of a kaput 3D printer industry. They come up with a scheme to allow the printers to print new printers, and to share inventions over an open network, a DIYers dream come true.
And things go on from there. For a while the book gives off an Accelerando vibe, but the singularity never comes. We bounce from one new idea to another, all of them interesting and none of them revolutionizing the world. Along the way we meet a lot of interesting characters, perpetually engaged in a struggle to innovate and protect their life-style from the evil corporations. All together, the book is surprisingly wide-ranging, and a short review cannot do it justice.
Doctorow is much better known for his interesting ideas than his writing style. While some of his recent novels have been more polished than his earlier works, I'd say this is a step back in some respects. To some extent, it reads more as a series of novellas rather than as a novel, first describing the New Work movement, then a social movement as the underprivileged squatters rise up, then the story of a start-up that accidently challenges Disney as a tourist/theme park destination... All interesting, but they don't fit together very well. Some characters are resolutely caricatures, and some show unexpected and perhaps inexplicable personal growth.
While I enjoyed this book, I did not enjoy it as much I do most of Doctorow's books. It goes on for a long time presenting interesting ideas without really going anywhere. It is a good world, a good set of characters, and even a good set of plots, but as a whole it doesn't really build up to anything. To some extent, many of his books are like this, presenting the struggle as the story, and not worrying if the struggle ends up being worth much in the grand scheme of things. However, this does mean that after a few hundred pages I started to feel a bit depressed and less excited to pick up the book again... which didn't stop me, or even slow me down. Slightly depressing Cory Doctorow is still well worth reading. The story remains interesting and the characters become more so as the story goes on. All in all, a good book, but not one of Doctorow's best.