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Meet thy Makers
on 24 September 2009
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.