Review of: Makers by Cory Doctorow

I actually read the freely downloadable version of Cory Doctorow's novel Makers on my Kobo ereader, even though I did buy the hardcover when it came out last year. Mostly, I wanted to check out the experience of reading a long text on my reader. Overall, the Kobo reading experience was terrific, not much different from reading a paper book. I tried it on both long inter-city bus rides and my regular commute as well as just sitting around the house. The Kobo is pretty bare bones, as these readers go, but it was good enough to consume fairly simple text. The Makers text was in epub format and that worked out pretty well. I've tried other texts in PDF format on the Kobo and the experience there is actually quite poor as it doesn't reflow the PDFs, requiring a lot of "pan & scan." I still haven't figured out what price I'm willing to pay in real money for a digital text I can't lend, resell, donate or share within my family. I'm still thinking it's not very much. As such, I haven't explored the Kobo store yet.

As for the Makers itself, I'll admit to rather enjoying it. Doctorow tells a cracking good story, fast-paced and exciting with reasonably good characters. If you're interested in a kind of near-future, post-scarcity view of what the capitalist and consumerist economy might evolve into in a 10-20 year time-frame, this is the book for you. Doctorow imagines a world of near-ubiquitous 3D printers and crumbling social structures with big corporations struggling to maintain their economic and political hegemonies. It's also a kind of geeky bromance/buddy picture/Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid vibe to it that's feels both incredibly compelling and a bit odd. It's like Judd Apatow grew up and made a movie out of Das Kapital.

On the other hand, I tend to see the "hand of the author" in the story a bit too much. Doctorow has a definite world view, a world view that revolves around openness and sharing and a radical transformation of what work and production are becoming. His world view has black hats and white hats, good guys and bad guys. It's possible for characters to grow, to show shades of grey, to be something other than perfect exemplars for one or the other side in his world view set piece, but it's rare. Because, really, his novels are just parables set in his world view. And really, that's ok. I share a fair number of principles with Doctorow but sometimes I just wish his novels weren't "just so." The plot follows too strongly from the world view.

In his Little Brother, a book explicitly aimed at young adults, the coincidence-driven, gosh-wow, good guys vs. bad guys shtick seems to go down easier. It's also his best book, where audience expectations seem to meet the structure of the work. And frankly, Makers mostly reads like a YA novel too, except for a few obviously R-rated scenes.

And there are a lot of similarities between the two books: eeeevillll apparatchiks, stout-hearted friends who stick by their pals no matter what, even the hero gets pretty well the same fire-breathing, ass-kicking, touch-chick girlfriend in pretty well the same way. Both heroes in Makers, actually, when I think about it.

Anyways, read the damn book. You won't be disappointed -- but you will be challenged.

Doctorow, Cory. Makers. New York: Tor, 2009. 416pp.

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Good review, John. After reading Little Brother, I was looking forward to reading Makers. I read it on my Kindle. I agree with your "hand of the author" comment. While I share many of Doctorow's view, the plot and characters of Makers were too thin to sustain my interest. I stopped reading halfway through. I think he's knocking off the books a bit too fast at present, but I anticipate more good books in the future.

Thanks, John.

I think Makers is probably at least 100 pages too long. It really needed to be tightened up quite a bit to make the plot flow more naturally. I read it in two or three bunches of time, and I found putting it down for a little while in between actually helped. I too might have lost interest if I'd tried to read it all at once. Interestingly, my older son also abandoned it and he really loved both Little Brother and For the Win.