On the Bookshelf: Makers by Cory Doctorow
Those who are interested in the next “Big Thing” are those who will be most interested in reading Makers by Cory Doctorow. However, that is not to say that the next “Big Thing” is actually embodied by the plot of the book, or the technology it contains or the implications for the world that it explores. Rather, Makers is a story about the relentless search for the next “Big Thing”, the next killer app, the next social mass-connection.
The technology is compelling. One of the main drivers of the book, as much a character as any of those who have speaking parts, is the 3D printer (I’ve explored a bit about this already). Along with open-source networking, robotics, bio-tech, lawfare, social media, the blogosphere (as a replacement for the mainstream media) and other emergent technologies and concepts; the future of Makers is simultaneously a better, and a worse, place. It is a world in flux, where the industrial, post-industrial and post-post industrial co-exist and compete. It is a world where the ability to produce products has devolved to the individual and business advantage is increasingly dependant upon the entrepreneurial ability to create a new product and capitalize upon that demand until somebody else can do it faster and cheaper. As that window of profitability becomes smaller and smaller Makers is a world of constant churn.
Two of the main characters of Makers perfectly embody this churning world. Perry Gibbons and Lester Banks only seem to be happy when they are creating. They have the visionary ability to take a pile of junk and create something of real utility and worth. They are classic mad scientists, and their Frankenstein’s Monster, rather than science run amok, is a dedication to invention that overturns all the rules. They create for the joy and challenge of creation and when they become too involved in their creations, defending them from those who would destroy or co-opt them, they are at their most miserable. It is only when they let go of what has come before, that they are able to return to that which makes them happy. In that way it is something of a love story, love for what they are doing and love for each other that defines the friendship of these two men of invention who are in every way better together than apart.
The third main character is Suzanne Church. At the beginning of the book she is a journalist who discovers the workshop of Perry and Lester and recognizes the special energy for creation that it embodies. She sets out to document their collective genius and becomes its evangelist, creating a movement of other like-minded people who in many ways succeed in changing the world with something called the “New Work”. In a sense, even though she never admits to it, she is the genesis of most of the troubles that befall Perry and Lester. Without her, the two would probably have remained in happy obscurity, inventing for the joy of creation.
I truly enjoyed Makers. I thought it was very well written and compelling in its vision, carrying on in the utopian/dystopian vision of the future much like that of sci-fi visionaries like Gibson, Stross and Stephenson. Those with an interest in the open-source future and how technology could change our world for good and ill should find it compelling and interesting. Those who enjoy a well told story with characters the reader can genuinely care about will find Makers equally good reading.