It’s odd. I read Makers towards the end of 2010, and I’ve read 10 novels (including another of Doctorow’s) and half a dozen non-fiction since, and yet Makers is still on my mind. This is a novel of imagination and depth, and it stays with you. It is quite extraordinary.
Having recently read the novel before Makers, called Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, I felt compelled to record my thoughts. And yet, I’m not sure what they are, or where that compulsion comes from. Makers is far from the best book I’ve ever read. At the time, I enjoyed it, although I do recall drifting at times, perhaps due to its complexity. At the time I thought that, as this was the first Doctorow novel I’d read, that this was an author I could really get into. Turns out he’s published another one since, but since the library didn’t have a copy, I’d failed to realise. And his new one is released in May this year. It appears that I’m under some kind of Doctorow inspired dizziness.
Which I can only describe as a good thing. Exhilarating, even.
So, just what is this Makers about? Collaboration and freedom. Simple. Ah, the plot? Ok, I see. Here we go:
The main protagonists are Perry and Lester. They invent things. They are the makers. But what they make is a little bit different. Seashell robots that make toast, Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars. They also make an entirely new economic and social housing system based on the ideas of collaboration, sharing and non-profit enterprise. They co-opt the homeless, fanboys and like-minded workers. Journalist Suzanne starts to document this new way of working and living, just as the US economy turns sour. But things don’t work out, so they return to an earlier version of themselves, just making stuff. Until they develop a 3D printer and a cure for obesity. At this point a rogue Disney exec gets involved in a very dark plot against them.
This is a story of brilliant hackers who must fight to remain the people they were that led them to success in the first place, while being seduced by the very organisations and philosophies they originally railed against. It is the story of ideas. Of Big Ideas. Of we are stronger working with each other than against each other. Of platonic and romantic love.
The characters are all very well realised, and despite all the social commentary, the political ideas, the corporation bashing and technophilia, it is the interactions between the characters that are the heart of this novel. It is the relationship between Perry and Lester, their love for each other and the pain they go through that stays with me. It is how Suzanne goes from a curious journalist trying to carve a name for herself, to becoming part of collective and an integral part of the inventors’ lives. It is how the other characters live and breathe, love and suffer and hover over various shades of grey. There is good and bad in all of them. The motivations are genuine and when things go bad, you kind of forgive them, because you understand them. I think I would have done the same.
Doctorow’s writing is as vibrant as it is inventive. While the plot does drift on occasion, the prose is confident and full. Even when I think it could have been a bit tighter, I was eager to find out what more trials awaited our heroes.
On further investigation, I find all of Doctorow’s novels are available under a Creative Commons Licence. Makers is free to download at http://craphound.com/makers/. As are his others from http://craphound.com. The author has a strong and clear voice, and is obviously passionate about sharing, collaborating and the promotion of talent, and this philosophy shines through his novel.