Canadian science fiction author, blogger and general copyright activist Cory Doctorow has today launched his latest book, Makers, receiving a mixed reception to the work.
The book – which has been being serialised chapter by chapter on Tor.com for some time, will now available more widely in bookstores. And due to Doctorow’s adoption of various Creative Commons licences for his work, you can download the book completely for free from his website.
Doctorow has written a number of critically applauded science fiction novels – most recently Little Brother in 2008, but also Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town in 2005, Eastern Standard Tribe (2004) and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003).
In Makers, Doctorow mashes up hacker culture – of the kind that sees zany inventors build amazing things out of junk in their garage – with the economic boom and bust cycle that has the Western world is so familiar with, courtesy of the dot-com bubble and the recent global financial crisis. From Doctorow’s web site, the blurb:
“Perry and Lester invent things—seashell robots that make toast, Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars. They also invent entirely new economic systems, like the “New Work,” a New Deal for the technological era. Barefoot bankers cross the nation, microinvesting in high-tech communal mini-startups like Perry and Lester’s. Together, they transform the country, and Andrea Fleeks, a journo-turned-blogger, is there to document it.
Then it slides into collapse. The New Work bust puts the dot.combomb to shame. Perry and Lester build a network of interactive rides in abandoned Wal-Marts across the land. As their rides, which commemorate the New Work’s glory days, gain in popularity, a rogue Disney executive grows jealous, and convinces the police that Perry and Lester’s 3D printers are being used to run off AK-47s.
Hordes of goths descend on the shantytown built by the New Workers, joining the cult. Lawsuits multiply as venture capitalists take on a new investment strategy: backing litigation against companies like Disney. Lester and Perry’s friendship falls to pieces when Lester gets the ‘fatkins’ treatment, turning him into a sybaritic gigolo.
Then things get really interesting.”
Doctorow is holding UK, US and Canadian launches for the book (further details are available on his site), which has received mixed reviews.
Some of the traditional press has praised the book. For example, Publisher’s Weekly writes that “Doctorow’s combination of business strategy, brilliant product ideas and laugh-out-loud moments of insight will keep readers powering through this quick-moving tale”.
However Makers has been savaged in reader reviews on Amazon.com. “This was a major slog. At 416 pages, I reckon it’s at least 150 pages too long. And, ultimately, there was not a lot of point to it,” wrote one reviewer. Another added:
“’Makers’ is solid, well-informed speculative fiction, but the quality of the ideas are let down by the weak plot. Like his lead characters, Doctorow seems happiest when he’s inventing. Techno-geeks will enjoy this book, but where ‘Little Brother’ transcended the genre, I don’t think ‘Makers’ will appeal much beyond the sci-fi community.”
And a third critic added: “… the story isn’t particularly well-written. It bounces along a speed, throwing ideas out, but the characters are simply there so that these ideas can be stated out loud. They are rather two-dimensional and there is no depth of character.”
I saw Doctorow speak when he last came to Sydney, and it was a fascinating speech discussing so many of the themes I’m interesting in. Technology, publishing, copyright, and so on. The guy is clearly jacked in to the info-tech revolution, and he’s been one to watch when it comes to staying ahead of the times.
But is he a good writer? That is the question.
(Jeez, that sounded a bit like the intro to the “Will it Blend” videos, didn’t it? If you haven’t watched them yet, watch them now. They’re hilarious)
I haven’t read any of Doctorow’s stuff fully, although I did pick up Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town once and give it a try for a couple of hours. What I found was that there were quite a lot of interesting ideas in the content, the actual prose was a bit stunted and hard to get through. I download the ebook of Makers and reading the first few pages, it seems to suffer from the same problem.
These are the opening lines:
“Suzanne Church almost never had to bother with the blue blazer these days. Back at the height of the dot-boom, she’d put on her business journalist drag — blazer, blue sailcloth shirt, khaki trousers, loafers — just about every day, putting in her obligatory appearances at splashy press-conferences for high-flying IPOs and mergers. These days, it was mostly work at home or one day a week at the San Jose Mercury News’s office, in comfortable light sweaters with loose necks and loose cotton pants that she could wear straight to yoga after shutting her computer’s lid.”
Does that sound boring or what? I’m sorry, Cory, but is that really the way you want to start a science fiction novel that you want people to pick up and not stop reading until they have to go to sleep? Why the hell should I care about some semi-retired journalists’ dress sense?
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