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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Down in Florida, Lester and Perry are a couple of platinum rated inventive nerds who make things, sometimes using a 3D printer. Not just any old things. Things that sell for upwards of $10,000 each. Now, their talents have been sucked up by the Kodacell conglomerate (you work it out) to construct weird and wonderful stuff. After the dot com bust, the idea is to have thousands of small co-operatives churning out product for a high return; when others copy the idea and those margins decrease, they move onto the next thing. The scheme sounds workable even in the real world. Unfortunately, when others begin to manufacture their own 3D printers from a 3D printer, everyone ends up trying to sell to everyone else so it all collapses. A bit like pyramid selling.

Some years later, all the individuals meet up once more with the two original nerds now fronting a rollercoaster ride with a nostalgic theme, which has the public queuing round the block. Thing is, they've allowed anyone to copy and build their own version free and that pesky theme park up the road, the one fronted by a mouse, takes exception. Can the little entrepreneur beat a giant international corporation? Most of the characters exude empathy, except one nasty, rat-faced journalist who you want to strangle, and a smarmy executive who you wish would get what he deserves. That is the essence of a good writer.

Some of the inventions Doctorow has thought up could eventually come to fruition; the laser key ring that repeats what you say when shone onto a wall and translates any one of a dozen languages sounds cool, as does the toaster-making robot. In a world of disposable consumerism, something that is used repeatedly would certainly have its market. The worm robots that redesign kids' playground overnight makes for curious if fanciful reading, but that nostalgic theme park ride may get people thinking. It can be done; all it needs to produce something technologically useful is for those with the ability to get together, they just haven't done so yet. They have within the pages of this book.

Makers is an interesting and different read but the main problem to overcome is the use of everything American. Those here in the UK may not understand many of the terms and phrases and struggle to imagine the environs the author is describing - the tech speak also makes your eyes glaze over on occasions. Overall, the flitting between scenes ensures the reader wants to carry on finding out what happens.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Caution - I couldn't review this without a few spoilers.

"Makers" depends for its narrative drive on a breakneck history of the near future. Beginning in the 20-teens with the rise and fall of a "New Work" movement, it then hops forward 5-10 years for the main action, and is rounded off by an epilogue taking place somewhat later. It's impressive for sheer breadth of ideas, grounded in technology and business with a background of lawsuits.

The action opens with Landon Kettlewell, who has just bought two bankrupt industrial giants and merged them to form "Kodacell", throwing his empire open as a support network for small teams of innovators (and sacking the rest of the workforce). Kettlewell comes over at the start as something of a business visionary, though much of the tension derives from a clash between his remaining sense of business orthodoxy and the anarchic instincts of Lester and Perry, the two members of the most successful team (in fact, we only one that we learn much about at all). Lester and Perry have turned a semi derelict mall in Florida into a factory for wonders, which Kettlewell markers. The game (Kettelwell's game) is to invent something cool and new, make as much money as you can and then move on to the next thing before competitors push the price down. A bit like Apple, but all happening much faster.

However, under the influence of Lester and Perry, the whole thing goes a great deal further than that and the first 150 pages or so of the book catalogue the rise and rise of "New Work", seen mainly through the eyes of journalist turned blogger Suzanne Church. This part of the book does feel slightly preachy; we are continually told how the movement is going from strength to strength and while interesting enough, I did find myself wondering where the story was. This section could perhaps do with trimming a bit.

Of course, it all ends in tears, setting the scene for Act 2, a much more complex and murky tale taking place over a few weeks and involving a kind of open-sourced, collaborative fairground ride, police brutality, a self-governing shanty town, Freddy, a fantastically unpleasant British journalist and lots of dirty work on the part of a famous Florida based theme park. And more lawsuits - lots of them (lawsuits play the same role in the book that the war does in War and Peace: an ever present background to which we seldom get too close, but with the odd set piece battle.)

The theme, if there is a single theme, is I think the rightness of letting people simply get on and control their lives (and especially their technology) - and the wrongness of suing them for trying to do so. If we allow this, good things emerge; if we don't, bad stuff happens. The book explores this through a number of different characters, none of whom, in the end, is entirely right - or entirely wrong. Despite his revolutionary ideas, Kettlewell continues to try to pull Lester and Perry back towards a more orthodox, business-focussed way of doings things (and lawsuits). Lester and Perry, in their different ways, just want to make things Suzanne sees both sides but often feels she is the only adult around. On the other side Freddy twists the truth and Sammy, a theme park executive, gets up to some truly nasty things. Along the way there is a truly eye popping sex scene, a cure for fatness and lost of other stuff. It is very, very entertaining, and thought provoking. This book bites off a great deal, but manages to digest most of it - I'd strongly recommend it, though I have two reservations

- it may be my fault, but I couldn't, simply couldn't, remember which was Lester and which was Perry for most of the book

- I was slightly troubled by the way that Freddy was set up as a villain and the comeuppance that was dished out to him. Yes, he is a lying, cynical journalist, but in a key scene he refuses to side with the Big Corporation and delivers a sterling speech, standing up for the little people. Yet another character, who sabotages Perry and Lester's projects and hires a thug to beat people up, gets off very lightly, in fact emerges as one of the winners. I don't want it all neat and tidy and Victorian, but still...

However - these are small doubts. And Doctorow ends with a truly tearjerking epilogue which I think is far and away the best thing in the book. To say too much more about it would spoil it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I never thought I'd end up giving Cory Doctorow's 'Makers' four stars. Whilst Part Two removes the reader from the incessant love of technology and business in Part One, the book did not really begin to take off for me until Part Three (220p). The book has flaws. The time shifts are unreliable. The overuse of dialogue between characters is often tiresome. Set in a near future, a polarised landscape of great wealth and shantytown poverty in the USA, the book never really explains this change beyond a mention of economic collapse.

The book's raison d'être is the need to foster creativity in an overly bureaucratic world. The gadget mania passed me by as I longed for a coherent narrative with lots of forward drive. The narrator does drop clues along the way about inequalities and this is picked up as we read on. The vulnerability of societies making them follow the next 'natural' step is contrasted with individuals creating together, being themselves.

Perry is the creator with a business mind. Lester is pure creativity whilst Sammy is cast as the head of Disney, the Big enemy of free enterprise. To Doctorow's credit he has their characteristics overlapping so we do discern some measure of depth to the characters. In the end it was the author's spirit of free trade, an urge to break down the chains of copyright law, his humour (Dr. Jellyfinger at airports hit the button for me) and the evocation of a world instantly connected to news bred by individuals on blogs and websites to the detriment of conventional journalism, that overwhelmed me enough to want to keep reading.

It is a political work. Its heart is in the right place. Stay with it as it seems naïve at times especially in relation to how women are portrayed as being a man's concept, a man's design: there's nothing tentative or complicated about the love affairs in this book. It has none of the flair of Le Carré's A Most Wanted Man which is far more effective at getting under the skin of corporate business but I admired the direction in which the book is pointing.
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on 30 April 2010
Cory Doctorow is a difficult one for me. I always really want to like his fiction, so I keep trying it out (thus far, my favourite book of his has been Eastern Standard Tribe).

I think what it may be, more than anything else is his writing style; I hesitate to call it actually *bad* but, well, I don't enjoy it.

The characters are almost entirely unlikeable - this isn't actually a fault in itself (Market Forces (Gollancz S.F.), for example has a cast of unlikeable characters, but is a superior book). What I find objectionable is that they are either paper thin and forgettable, or crude stereotypes (slightly manky British journo with bad teeth? Come on!)

There are some truly awful bits of prose scattered through the novel. For example, there's an excruciating sex-scene.

What's good about the novel - its fairly believeable extrapolations of currently available technologies - are also, for me anyway, a weakness. There's firstly, quite a lot of info-dumping (which would be fine were the pacing of the novel better) and secondly it still didn't quite ring true for me (others may feel differently). New Work, I'm sorry to say, kept reminding me of the underpants elves in South Park in the way that people suddenly made a success of this stuff.

I did read a comment, elsewhere, to the effect that Doctorow had re-written Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) for nerds (in the sense that they were kicking against parasites and bullies, i.e the middle-men). I don't think that's entirely fair on him (as I have no truck with Ayn Rand's view on life and I don't get that from Doctorow - plus, was there ever anyone that read Atlas Shrugged and said "oh no! I'm a parasite!" I digress), but I did find his tone a little hectoring in places (much like some of his other work, there is a great deal of proselytising which, even where I agree with him, I can find a little wearing).

It's a shame, really, as there are, undoubtedly, some good ideas in this and as readers of BoingBoing will be well aware, he seems like a thoroughly decent chap.

It's not a total washout - I'm sure that there are people that find this enjoyable, other reviews here have covered some of the other aspects of the novel, which I think are interesting; I've just tried to indicate what didn't work for me personally.
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VINE VOICEon 24 September 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Makers is one of those books which can sound boring on paper - it's essentially about the future of companies and products, the social institutions and people behind them. However, it's anything but boring. The story starts with one of the main characters, Kettlewell, buying Kodak and Duracell, but rather than simply merging them, he breaks them down and uses the resources to fund hundreds of small innovation startups; small, nimble makers who can move fast. The book follows three other characters - Suzanne, a journalist / blogger who follows the trend, Perry and Lester, who invent things. The characters become intertwined with each other, and other allies and adversaries emerge as the book goes on.

The story is skillfully told - Doctorow relates the inventions (some of which are pretty futuristic, like self-replicating machines) in a believable fashion, and the characters are complex and flawed in a way which makes them feel very human. The villains (an embittered journalist and a rival company) are portrayed well, and the financial and legal implications of the 'making' are told well without getting bogged down in too many details.

Makers thunders along at a tremendous pace, and my only criticism would be that it occasionally moves too fast in the first part of the book, speeding through parts which perhaps deserve a bit more time. There's a lot in it, and the book itself spans decades, showing the development of the characters and their lives.

It's a cracking good read, and quite thought-provoking. Well worth a look.
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on 8 August 2011
Cory Doctorow writes about the near future. All of his novels are set in a world that is still within the realms of the imaginable. It makes them not always easy to classify - they can seem a bit utopian or dystopian or too futuristic or not futuristic enough... basically, they sit in a genre and class of their own.

Makers is a novel about people who like to be creative and invent stuff. It's about a future where everyone can become a mad inventor, like the one in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with minimal resource investment and without understanding all the inner workings of their inventions. Basically, he's extrapolated about 10 years into the future. Maybe less.

The characters in his novel are: Perry and Lester - two "makers", Susanne - a journalist assigned to cover their story, Kettlewell - a visionary business man who merges two old economy industrial behemoths, liquidates all their industrial aspects and turns the new corporation into a venture capital investor for mad inventors, Tjan - a manager brought in to monetise the mad inventions, Freddy - a vicious little journalist, and Sammy - a Disney Parks manager who tries to innovate the park and fight the competition.

But the truth is, the characters are secondary to the ideas. The novel chronicles their actions and lives for a few years, then a skip of a few years, then another few months, with an epilogue set another fifteen years later. But it never feels like a story. Yes, there are conflicts and struggles, but some of them happen off-stage, some are just flamewars on teh interwebs, some are a little forced. There is no overarching story arc - it's more like a lengthy series of events, a murky, undirected collection of lives that intersect at these two points, important to all sets of lives, but not perhaps all-important.

No, the important thing in this book is not the people. It's the ideas. It's why they all spend so much time discussing, debating, talking about ideas. It's why the book sometimes reads like a discussion in a forum, or the kind of conversations students at university can have, when they're still convinced that they have a future of changing the world before them, and want to play out ideas about what that future world will or should be.

So, the ideas:

We don't need to understand the workings of stuff to invent it. These days, there are libraries of source code, computer applications that can compute almost anything, modular codes that you can combine without ever having seen a line of source code yourself, open APIs and mashups... so anyone can quickly put something together without being particularly smart or educated that would have taken prior generations a hundred people and a year. (Witness the App development boom on mobile phones, and the way little computer games are made these days)

What if the same were true for physical objects? Cue the 3D printers (which already exist, but are pricey). They print 3D objects out of plastic. What if you could have programmable, learning robots using and assembling those objects, and working for you. You could be a factory...

The other ideas are mostly about organisations, patents, copyrights, trademarks: fundamentally, wouldn't it be nicer if intellectual property did not exist? If everyone could mashup not just songs, but ideas, objects, products, inventions, without needing permission, and then sell them on...

There's other ideas in there too, about American nutritional habits, biotech, poverty and poor communities etc. but ultimately, the thing that drives the novel is frustration with the existence of intellectual property, and lawyers.

The book is an interesting read, but never a funny one. Sometimes characters roll on the floor laughing, but it's over things that you need to be there to find funny. It's not a very tense read either - all the energy goes into discussions, debates, plans of action, but events just sort of sneak up on people, like hurricanes, and characters are more reactive than authorial in their own fates.

I suppose the thing I found most difficult about reading the book is that it started out with huge energy, and then fizzled into defeatism. It read a little like China Mieville's novels - not in the language, which is purely functional and not decorative at all - but in the affection for a political mode that the novel itself seems to think cannot work, not because the model is bad, but because it would require people to be smart and good and believe in it. Just like Mieville's socialist collectivist people power organisations, the ideas and political models in Makers need not just momentum, but inertia, and neither author can convince himself that critical mass could be reached. So we read about movements that struggle, fizzle, die... get reborn, struggle... it starts out with a bang and continues with a whinge, heads for a whisper. Which makes the reading experience not satisfying in that part of your brain that likes well-rounded stories with a climax and genuine excitement at the end. It may make it intellectually satisfying, but I read books to be satisfied in my story-sense as well as my intellectual sense, and this book delivers the latter without the former.
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VINE VOICEon 2 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very well crafted book, which tells the story of Lester and Perry, whose lives revolve around taking things apart, and making more interesting stuff out of it. Starting around 10 to 20 years in the future, it's a book which paints the delicate lines between creativity, publicity, and business with an unmitigated realism. Some elements of each work together with sparkling results, capturing imaginations across the world, while others clash with an instinctive intensity which threaten to stifle creativity itself.
I hadn't realised before I got the book that the author is co-editor of Boing Boing, a weblog looking at technology, futurism, science fiction, intellectual property, and Disney, amongst other things. Disney features heavily in the book, as the big corporation feeling threatened by the sheer genius of Lester and Perry's work. The portrayal of the company was fascinating, looking both at the expert touches which make Disney so popular, and both the dirt and construction which always exist behind the scenes of any huge organisation.
In the back story were the other big themes of the contrast between the haves, and have nots, and of obesity. The book cheerfully lays modern poverty in rich countries bare, with an unerring description of the embarrassment often felt on being confronted with the reality of those living on the bottom line. It also chronicles the modern disease of obesity with a touching honesty, and the search for a "magic bullet" to solve the problem.
In all, this is a really good, entertaining read. I quickly became fond of the main characters, and I loved the honesty of the future the author describes, where there are some great leaps forward in technology, but a whole raft of emerging problems. This might not be the picture of a utopian future, but it comes across as a very realistic picture.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Cory Doctorow's work is rooted in the cyberpunk genre, concerned with the political, social and economic ramifications of new technology. But rather than dealing in the urban dystopias that his forebears were so fond of, Doctorow is an optimistic type of guy: His future America is a more-or-less successful world where access to cheap information technlogy has led to a weakening of government and corporate power and led to the rise of a new artisan class.

This book centres around the concept of 3D printing, wherein cheap consumer goods can be produced using digital blueprints in a device attached to a PC. This idea was first introduced in fiction in Willam Gibson's 'Idoru' in 1997, and seemed extremely far fetched. However, the first home 3D printers are now on the market in reality; This brings us to the core of what Doctorow does, producing SF thats at the very interface of now and the future. Almost all of his ideas are based on current research, and are at least theoretically possible to make now or at least pretty soon. (His website, [...] documents cutting edge design and technology.)

Like all Doctorow's books, 'Makers' is witty and full of ideas: In common with a lot of SF authors, he's perhaps not the greatest writer in the world, but this isn't at all the kind of Commander Glarxxxon from Spiral Nebulae Za3 stuff that puts so many people off SF, and deserves a mainstream audience. Recommended for all SF fans and anyone interested in how the rapid development of consumer technology is changing our world.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I opened this book with great expectation, having heard much about the author and his previous hit Little Brother.

It starts well, and I found myself enjoying the ride as the characters came to life, but then it staggers to a grinding halt, and he changes horses in mid novel, bringing forward a different plot and shifting the focus onto different characters. It could almost have been two books, although here it is presented as three parts.

This chop and change took some getting used to, and the central portion where he is feeling the new ground is definitely not as good as the beginning and the end. I lost interest in the middle for the best part of a week. But seeing the unfinished book staring back at me reproachfully, I took it up again and read the last half at a single sitting. I'm glad I did, it was worth the effort.

I'm carefully not saying anything specific about the plot or characters, but I think the focus and development could have been better managed. The opening premise is very good and I was immediately reminded of the classic old SF novel by Damon Knight A for anything (Four Square books) and then later I could feel resonances with Terry Pratchett and his imps doing things in boxes. However, Doctorow neatly avoids falling into the trap of repeating others ideas, and convincingly bends his own interpretation of a couple of common themes in modern SF.

He charts an alternative culture struggling through beneath a bloated and stagnant near-future America, and how they might interact, and the consequences of brilliant new ideas or technology placed in a few altruistic hands being freely released for the benefit of the masses. Coupled with this is the scale of the economics involved, and how multiple small changes can be just as influential as a single gigantic catastrophe. Sadly, there is a bit too much about the technology, and it is just enough to expose the technical flaws in his story. Less is more when postulating a 'What If?', which is why Damon Knight's entirely non-technical book still works so well fifty years later.

The real weakness is that Makers is very good in parts, but very boring in others, and lacks a proper structure. I don't like the way he drifts seemingly aimlessly between characters and effectively abandons them for much of the novel. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, except perhaps the reporter, and the corporate villain in the spotlight for the second half, or is there actually a real villain?

Hence I've only given it three stars because while the two central plot ideas are excellent, it feels over-long and disjointed, and the main characters deserved to have been better developed. If you are a fan of Doctorow I expect you will still want to buy this book, and you will probably enjoy it, but personally, I will scan his next one more carefully before buying it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 October 2009
I really quite enjoyed 'Little Brother' by Doctorow so I was hoping for more of the same. Another contemporary and insightful novel was the expectation and it did deliver that but it is in a different mould than his previous book.

The novel deals with interesting subjects for the modern age. Who really makes anything anymore? Do you have control over the things you own? What is technology really good for? The questions are good but sadly the novel lacks the pace and dynamism that made 'Little Brother' a genuine stand out. It certainly deals with as important a set of issues as the previous novel but I guess it is harder to make the subject matter of industry, court cases and economics as thrilling as terrorism and underground rebellion. This was never more evident in a very slow start and a bit more editing down and cutting away of some excess would probably help move the story along a bit quicker. What definitely shouldn't be played with is the epilogue. Very well written and quite moving, proving that Doctorow is more than just a techno-guru who has his finger on the pulse. He can write a lick as well!

In short, I enjoyed the novel. It is refreshing to read novels that deal with the really important issues of our times. If you can persevere with the start then you will be treated to an insightful and enjoyable walk through a worryingly convincing view of the near-future. And above all it is worth getting into just to enjoy the last 20 pages.
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