sugoll (sugoll) wrote,

Makers, by Cory Doctorow

Miami, five minutes into the future. In a swealtering junkyard, geeks Perry and Lester are making money by making cool shit, rapidly repurposing discarded hardware with open source software and getting exciting products onto the market at high margin, then moving like magpies onto the next bright idea while competitors are scrabbling to produce knock-offs, bringing down the margins.

And they're not the only ones. Employer Kodacell has fired all  its conventional staff and replaced them with a thousand Perry-and-Lester teams, a whole workforce of startups, not even pretending to fly in formation. With them for the ride is blogger and journalist Suzanne Church, living on-site in the junkyard and chronicling the rise of what becomes known as "New Work".

And that's just the start of the book.

Makers reads like Doctorow is having another crack at his earlier novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. It's got the dumpster-diving mentality, grass-roots community projects based on open-source software and discarded commodity hardware. It's got a focus on making things better in the community, particularly for the down-and-outs. And this time around, he's left out the allegory-heavy fantasy elements that didn't fit at all well in that book, making this one a techo-thriller stuffed with social commentary.

Another of Doctorow's narrative tics is Disney (see Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom), and the Mouse features heavily here: one of Lester and Perry's projects is a ride, a self-modifying experience that reconfigures itself according to the responses of the customers. It takes off in a big way, and Disney's not keen on competition. That segues into yet another common theme of Doctorow's – the alt.culture activist versus The Man (Little Brother). Perry and Lester might be computer geniuses, but they're not at all equipped to deal with how nasty a big corporation can get, even when playing it strictly by the book, and their aversion to anyone they perceive as "suits" doesn't really help.

Throw into the mix some commentary on diet fads, blogging culture (from Suzanne's side, and from the cesspool that is Rat-Tooth Freddy's "Tech Stinks" gossip rag), Apple's iPhone lock-in mentality, the odd romance or two, and you have a reasonably engaging book. Suzanne carries it, as both an endearing character and, frankly, a grown-up,  but the other characters have something going for them too. There are a few swerves toward the end that are highly implausible, but there's a quite enjoyable payoff. Even though I really don't get Americans' obsession with amusement parks.

Doctorow isn't quite as inspiring here as he was in Little Brother, and he's not as witty a writer as Stross, but this was still not a bad book.
Tags: books, sf
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