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Makers
Cory Doctorow
Tor, 416 pages

Makers
Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow was born in Toronto, in 1971. He has sold fiction since the age of 17. His story, "Craphound," was published in Science Fiction Age. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was his first novel.

Cory Doctorow Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Little Brother
SF Site Review: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
SF Site Review: Eastern Standard Tribe
SF Site Review: A Place So Foreign
SF Site Review: Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kit O'Connell

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Many science fiction novels ask, "What is the next big thing?" This is hardly a surprising trend. Within our own lifetimes, we have seen a succession of these next big things. It's a theme as old as the genre itself. Makers, the extraordinary new novel by Cory Doctorow instead concerns two other, perhaps more interesting questions: "What does it mean to be the next big thing?" and "What happens after the next big thing?"

Set a decade or so into our future, Makers begins with the birth of a new, dot-com-esque boom time, the "New Work." New Work takes the advances pioneered by today's most successful online companies such as Amazon.com and opens them up to the masses: several large corporations become essentially networks linking engineers and developers with marketers and manufacturers who may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away. This empowers small businesses like never before and destroys the already dying paradigm of the centralized work place.

The New Work is pioneered by the corporate merger of Kodak and Duracell into Kodacell, and more specifically by two of Kodacell's leading luminaries, inventor-artists Perry and Lester. Escaping from the final death throes of the newspaper industry, business journalist Suzanne Church quits her job and becomes a world-renowned blogger by reporting from the scene at Perry and Lester's workshop -- a warehouse and junkyard in an abandoned mall, full of all manner of forgotten technology waiting to be repurposed.

For a time, their star shines incredibly bright. The nature of New Work means they must continuously innovate: anything they sell will be cloned more cheaply by competitors within months, so the duo are forced to constantly invent anew. The book is full of engaging and weird ideas like garden gnomes with internal voice recorders and homes where every single object is wired with RFID. As with all bubbles, though, the New Work is precarious and soon comes crashing down.

Lester and Perry are themselves a part of this crash, when they perfect 'maker' technology -- cheap printers which can be fed raw materials and recreate almost any object, including other printers. The economy collapses almost overnight, and most of the book is about the aftermath -- how people survive, and eventually thrive, in a time when almost everything is changing. From the 'Fatkins' radical weight loss treatment to special inhalable gases that make any food combination palatable, Cory Doctorow is gifted at thrusting his readers into a wondrous, disturbing, and disorienting future.

But Makers isn't just a novel of ideas. It is also the story of a friendship's rise and fall and revival. Perry and Lester clash with each other, with the financiers and marketing mavens who facilitate their dreams, and with their lovers. The characters in this book are flawed and very real. At times, Doctorow's writing reminds me of Spider Robinson at his best, with a keen insight into the rhythm of human relationships and the rough edges which form as we grow and change. But Doctorow seems less likely to rose-tint his view of humanity with forced happy endings. The characters felt like people I knew, both in how familiar they had become by the time I finished the book and by how much they reflected real people I have had in my life.

Isn't that how the best science fictional novels work, as reflections of our own modern lives? When the protagonists create a memorial to the New Work in the form of a combination amusement park ride and museum, I couldn't help but think of the dotcom refugees I have known, still yearning for those days of excess. The ensuing battle between the plucky ride operators and misguided Disney executives skillfully echoes so many of the current struggles between old media, embodied by dinosaurs like the RIAA, and new media pioneers like Doctorow himself.

Technological predictions alone cannot sustain the interest of most readers. At less than a year old, a few tiny parts of the book feel dated already, particularly the lengths Suzanne goes to conserve her precious cellphone minutes. This isn't a failing of the author; it is inherent in the genre. What makes this book succeed so well is how deeply Cory Doctorow explores the effects of this technological and economic revolution on the people who create it.

It seems likely that another technological boom time will arrive in our not too distant future; when the next breakthrough comes I hope this book will be a guide to that time and the transformations that come inevitably after. Until then it stands as a vivid and thought-provoking novel that should be read by any lover of the genre.

Copyright © 2010 Kit O'Connell

Kit O'Connell is a writer, geek and Voluptuary living in Houston, Texas. Kit's poetry has appeared in Aberrant Dreams and Oysters and Chocolate. He can be found online at approximately 8,000 words, his homepage.


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