Review of MAKERS by Cory Doctorow
Tor, October 2010
As with the dot-com bubble, new work has its own problems, but Perry and Lester continue, creating a new work homage theme park in an abandoned Wal-Mart (in this near-future world, most of America is a spralling slum, with just about all real estate caught up in legal disputes). The evil geniuses at Disneyland find out, however, and use legal maneuvers to try to shut Lester and Perry down.
MAKERS walks a sometimes uncomfortable line between techno-political preaching and story. Sometimes this works. Sometimes we get dumps of author Cory Doctorow's (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Doctorow) economic theories or digressions on how makeshift slums can be key markets and happy company towns/communes, and sometimes we get intriguing speculation on the future or real characters struggling with their demons.
MAKERS starts out slowly, both by delaying Suzanne's initial meeting with Lester and Perry, but more fundamentally by depicting the whole new work process. The story doesn't really start until after the collapse of new work, when Perry's "ride" comes into conflict with Disney. Disney executive Sammy is really the most interesting character in the story. He's ambitious, amoral, but hasn't lost track of what Disney is supposed to be. He's the one who first discovers the 'ride,' using it both for competitive intelligence, ideas for Disney, and as a sort of fall guy for political problems at Disney.
Frankly, I found Suzanne, Perry and Lester to be a little too perfect. Suzanne made millions blogging about new work, then made millions more blogging about fat reduction. A blogging author making another blogging author his protagonist is a bit much. Perry and Lester are best friends... to join their business you have to move in with them. Everything they do is brilliant, everything they try works, they're so sure of their righteousness and because they're right, they never have to learn otherwise. Most of their righteousness centers around Doctorow's pet peeve--copyright/trademark/patent violations (Doctorow thinks these are good things). I would have liked them better if they'd wrestled with their demons, wondered if they shouldn't keep some of their ideas for themselves, failed occasionally, found themselves starving because the network of 'rides' they started ended up destroying the market for the original.
From a social perspective, Doctorow is doing what Science Fiction should do. He's taking existing trends, existing technologies, existing social structures and extending them out. America is going through a massive restructuring that's resulted in what appears to be the permanent unemployment of a significant percentage of our population. Networks have eroded the importance of location, making it possible to do creative work in a slum or even a dump. Freely available resources do make it possible for a small team to create wonderful things, using building blocks provided by others as base modules. Intellectual property is a fascinating double-edged weapon. I certainly don't agree with everything Doctorow puts in his characters' mouths, but they're asking many of the right questions.
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