This interesting, near-future technology-based novel initially came out in 2009 in serial form as an ebook, before being released by Voyager as a printed version. I’ve been interested to read a variety of responses to the book, many of them hostile…
Perry and Lester invent things. All sorts of things. Seashell robots that can make toast, Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars. They also invent an entirely new economic system. ‘New Work’ is a New Deal for the technological era, and together Perry and Lester transform the country, with journalist Suzanne Church there to document their progress.
For the record, that’s half the blurb published (which I hadn’t read before embarking on the book) on the inside of the cover – and the reason why I’m not continuing any further, is that the next paragraph proceeds to give away at least half the major plot points of the book. Which is the reason, I reckon, that one of the recurring complaints I’ve encountered about this book is that the story is slow and predictable. If those reviewers knew in advance what was coming up, no wonder they felt the book dragged. That’s the only explanation I can come up with – because although it’s a long book, at no time did I find my attention wandering. Doctorow’s gleeful enthusiasm for the new toys he’s envisioned for the near future didn’t stop him paying attention to providing an entertaining storyline and likeable, interesting characters. I was also impressed at the clarity of the writing – at no point was I scratching my head or having to backtrack and reread any sections in order to understand exactly what all these cool, techie gismos did. And while I enjoy browsing through the New Scientist, I’m no science specialist.
I have a suspicion that many of the poor reviews about Makers are aimed at the high profile author who makes no secret of his beliefs, many of which are somewhat controversial. One complaint was grumbling about the fact that Doctorow chose Duracell as a struggling company of the future… while another targeted the fact that Lester and Perry spent a lot of time making kitch dross, rather than worthy, planet-saving inventions. There were several scathing comments along the line that despite Doctorow’s dislike of large profit-hugging corporations, such as Disney, his maverick inventors still ended up working in a system that made money.
Well – duh… I would suggest that while it’s a no-brainer that Capitalism is a toxic system, criminally wasteful of the resources and humanity that get ground up underfoot – so far, thanks to the crash of Communism and the current woes of Socialist governments across the globe it’s the system we’re stuck with. And if Doctorow had managed to come up with a credible alternative system in his novel, he’d probably be Out There, earning himself a Nobel Peace prize and becoming the first President of Earth, rather than critiquing the current sorry mess as a writer.
I think it’s a shame that Makers has drawn down so much unfriendly criticism due to Doctorow’s political stance, because while at times the prose is a little rough around the edges, I’ve read an awful lot of science fiction novels where the pacing, characterisation and plotting was a great deal worse, yet garnered far more favourable reviews. Doctorow has all sorts of interesting observations to make in this thoughtful look at the near future and how technology may shape the outlook for sections of American society. I also thoroughly enjoyed the story of Lester, Perry and Suzanne and am not sure how anyone could have thought the poignant epilogue was predictable.
If you are genuinely interested in what one person has to say about how new technology might impact the near future – and won’t throw up your hands in horror if said person chooses not to address the issues of resources or climate change – then I strongly recommend this novel.