I am beyond thrilled to tell you about a book I read recently. It could be my new favorite fiction book. Yeah. It’s so good. I’m talking, of course, about Makers by Cory Doctorow. This book is amazing, insightful, funny, and down right strange. It’s hard for me to verbalize what I like so much about it. I read it out loud with my wife and she kept asking me what I liked so much. Let me try to explain.
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It’s difficult to even describe this book briefly. It’s very different from anything else I’ve read. To start, it’s a near future science fiction story. Not science fiction like light sabers and aliens. Science fiction like it transports us to a slightly different different reality enabled by technology and circumstances that we don’t have. It’s close to home and yet gives us a glimpse into something we wouldn’t ordinarily see. All in a disarming way.
Makers starts with a strange merger of Kodak and Duracell into (wait for it) Kodacell. All under the leadership of Kettlewell. He’s a slick business genius with a grand new vision. Small business units doing all sorts of different things supported by Kodacell’s infrastructure. This concept becomes known as New Work. Along for the ride is Suzanne Collins, a reporter and blogger that Kettlewell sets up with his star business unit.
Enter our stars, Lester and Perry. They make things. Out of other things. When Suzanne finds them in the abandoned mall in FL that they work out of, they are repurposing Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls, making them into an integrated unit that is collectively able to drive a car. It’s really weird.
Lester and Perry are going to invent things for Kodacell. Kodacell connects the boys with a business manager named Tjan. There’s only one thing you need to know about Tjan… He’s a business badass.
They invent a series of hits. Some of them are so brilliant, I can’t believe they don’t already exist. They make use of RFID tags so that you can put your stuff away in random bins. Then when you want to find it, search for it on a computer and the bin it’s in lights up. Think warehouse pick-to-light system paired with a system for always knowing where you put your stuff away. If this had been written today (instead of 2011), imagine it paired with voice tech. “Hey Siri, where’s my red sweater?” The boys make huge returns for Kodacell.
But, all isn’t well. Despite their huge ROI, they’re just one tiny unit in Kodacell’s scheme and not all are doing as well. Plus there are competitors popping up and they poach Tjan. Lester and Perry invite a group of nearby displaced homeless people into their living space and they build a shantytown/factory. Kodacell collapses. New Work is over.
Perry and Lester start The Ride. It’s an abandoned Walmart with a series of displays. You’re in a motorized chair that takes you through the displays. You have a joystick where you upvote or downvote things that you see in the displays. Based on that feedback, an army of robots updates the ride each night. Riders are encouraged to bring new objects into the ride which are then subjected to the upvote/downvote. It’s really weird.
The Ride gets really popular with a religious-like following. Disney takes notice and Sammy, an extremely unlikable Disney exec, tries to sabotage it. It doesn’t work and The Ride expands all over the world. Lester and Perry create a system where the rides all sync. Disney finds out that some Disney IP was dropped in the ride by a rider and sues. Sammy incites a riot in the market outside The Ride.
Lester and Perry countersue under the guidance of Kettlewell and Tjan. They don’t have much money, but they secure investors to back the lawsuit. Then, as the back cover of the book says, things get interesting. Lots more happens, but I don’t want to give more away in case you want to read it. Suffice it to say, this book is jam packed with happenings.
This Sounds Weird
It’s hard to explain exactly why I like this book so much. Trying to explain it makes me realize just how crazy it sounds. Like a lot of science fiction, the quick synopsis sounds insane.
It could be the characters. They’re all so different and yet so utterly believable. I don’t know how Doctorow pulls it off. The book is full of characters with strong opinions that are quite different, but each is presented convincingly. Perry and Lester are similar, but have some fundamental disagreements about the role of business in making things. Who’s right and wrong? It’s hard to say, and that’s part of the fun and challenge. Makers challenges you in a thousand ways to think things through for yourself.
It could be the writing. It’s quirky and fun. I couldn’t put it down. The descriptions and the dialogue is absolutely perfect.
It could be the brilliant inventions. This book is full of business plans, inventions, and repurposing of existing technology. It’s all so plausible and forward thinking. Even today, tons of it is ahead of its time.
But, at bottom, I don’t quite know why this book is so good. Doctorow reached into my brain and produced the exact right book for me. All I can say is thank you Cory Doctor. And, dear reader, go check out this book.