Saturday, April 03, 2010

Makers, Cory Doctorow

I really enjoyed Cory Doctorow's Makers, which is a Prometheus award finalist for this year even though it doesn't reach very far into the science fiction realm. I think many of the other judges, not living in Silicon Valley, don't see the same kind of ongoing inventiveness as I do, and don't see makers as an unrelenting force in the world.

The story follows the activities of a pair of makers (the modern, more popular term for the good kind of hacker), who invent a continuing stream of disruptive technologies, start a couple of movements which grow and crash serially casting fame and angst in all directions though wealth is sparser. The characters are prototypical hackers, with varying social skills, but always with the ability to adapt to new circumstances. From time to time, they each need to take on more managerial or other non-technical roles, which they sometimes do well, and other times pass on to others more suited for the role, and are always pining to get back to being creative.

The characters were completely plausible, and their inventions were eminently reasonable. Many people might blanch at their universal constructors, but everything they build is macro-scale, no nanotech required. Their diet interventions were more fantastic, allowing people to eat unlimited quantities, while burning all the calories wastefully, and therefore losing weight. The drawbacks and work-arounds were also plausible.

The fun part of it is that you get to see hackers spinning out new ideas, and new businesses growing up in all directions. The two primary characters are followed around by a reporter who decides they're the most interesting thing going on, and blogs their activities non-stop. While this means they have few secrets, it's also a source of unending publicity for them. Many of their inventions help other people move up from the bottom rung of the economic ladder, and keep lawyers and business managers continuously busy.

The battles over ownership and control of the technology were priceless, as well as the corporate intrigue and underhanded shenanigans to keep them from destroying other company's (mostly Disney, a perennial bad guy in Doctorow's stories) plans.

As a Prometheus nominee, there must be a libertarian connection, right? Well, open source production, entrepreneurial drive, and undercutting the normal order of things will have to suffice, since the characters pretty much ignore the government except when someone is suing someone else.

BTW, Locus Magazine had a great April Fools announcement that Ayn Rand's estate had picked Doctorow and Charlie Stross (both Prometheus winners, as Locus pointed out) to write a sequel to Atlas Shrugged. Meanwhile, Stross' own site announced that due to the sorry state of the SFF market, he'd be coming out with a line of sparkly unicorn-themed novels aimed at the teen market.

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