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Cory Doctorow - MakersMakers is a novel by Cory Doctorow, who (in his own words) is a Canadian “science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger -- the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of the bestselling novel Little Brother". He’s also a John W. Campbell and a Locus award winner (neither for the book at hand), with, as this is written, 6 novels and a number of collections and non-fiction books to his name.

The book kicks off with Suzanne Church, a journalist writing for the San Jose Mercury and a veteran of the Silicon Valley/DotCom boom, attending a press conference by Landon Kettlewell, who has just bought two old Dinosaurs (Kodak and Duracell) and merged them into a new company he calls Kodacell. His plan is to become nimble, work with thousands of cells of innovators and inventors, with quick turn-around times and even quicker time to market. He sets Suzanne up with a model unit for his new approach where she is planning to follow the progress of this new venture (The New Work, it will later be called); which is how she meets Perry and Lester, two highly creative geeks and serial inventors, and observes their transformation from one-off collector’s market work to cutting edge, million-unit shipping New Work unit.
Not all is happiness and sunshine, though – with success come imitators and haters (Suzanne has her nemesis Freddie, a British journalist with a distinctly different slant in reporting, and a rather unfriendly take on things), and all the 3D printing eventually brings IP issues, and in the form of Disney a very major player into, er, play.

The story felt slow to get rolling, it just trundled along, and did not really draw me in for a good part of the book. The ‘I want to know what happens next’ factor was mainly missing for me – I could, in most parts, have put this down and left the book and its story without feeling any urge to go back to it. The distance to the story varies greatly – some parts are only told in the biggest, broadest of brush strokes; but then we zoom in and get blow-by-blow, word-for-word accounts of events.

The scope of the book, with its focus on the new economy, the next economy, and the big thing after the next economy is long-term, if not epic; the first boom&bust cycle is dealt with in the first 150 pages – not bad going for an “economy” focused story...
This plays, or at least starts (it runs for some 20 years) in the near future (I didn’t catch any actual year). It grossly overstates some developments and technical capabilities, never mind the clinical developments. I love tinkerers and engineers, and open source (and don't get me wrong – what Cory describes here are the kind of people Wired gets wet knickers over), but a lot of this strikes me a more McGuiver than realistic portrayal…
The story is unrealistic in regards to the impact of 3D printers which can reproduce everything (including more printers? Really? wouldn't that lead to some kind of singularity?). Yes, you need the ‘goo’ to go into them, but even then the IP etc issues would blow the technology out of the water (or make it heavily prescribed and controlled) very quickly IMHO. Never mind the fact that you can (as some kids in the story do) run AK47s on them. Not even in the US would this pass muster, never mind anywhere else…

As usually with Cory Doctorow there also is a political agenda alright – IP, corporate responsibility, shareholder value vs value for stakeholders are all discussed at points – never mind the displays of corporate politics and infighting, both on parts of the incumbent marked dominant players (mainly Disney), and the new, smaller, nimble new players. In contrast to the message Little Brother had this is not as dominant, and not as badly rammed down our throats, which I appreciated.


Cory's writing, in large parts, still doesn’t agree with me – some parts really grab you and take you along, but a lot of the rest feels like a long slog, and were hard work to read – an experience I've had with others of his books, too.
Most of the protagonists here don’t strike me as ‘real’ humans – is that from incorrect expectations on my side as to what/how humans are, or because they are American, or is this Cory’s fault?
Either way, the characters, for all their trials and tribulations, did not really engage or capture me, although the story itself still worked best for me in the ‘human interest’ segments, where Cory lays off the economy/business/legal shenanigans stuff. And I really appreciated Lester's despairing quip as things kick off yet again: “why couldn’t he just make stuff and do stuff? Why did it always have to turn into a plan for world domination? In Lester’s experience, most world-domination plans went sour, whilst a hefty proportion of modest plans to Make Something Cool actually worked out pretty well, paid the bills, and put food on the table.”


Overall I found this interesting for the economics displayed, even if I found both these and the technological enablers for them unrealistic, and not sufficiently thought through in their consequences.
A mixed pleasure...



More Cory Doctorow


Thanks to Harper Collins for the review copy

Title: Makers
Author: Cory Doctorow
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Harper/Voyager
Publisher URL: http://www.bookarmy.com
Publisher URL: http://www.harpercollins.co.uk
Publication Date: 2009
Review Date: 120224
ISBN: 978 000 732 7898
Price: UKP 7.99
Pages: 585
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Economics

 

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