I read this book after I had read Doctorow’s Little Brother; the two have very strong similarities in plot structure. It’s a serviceable – if a bit transparent – structure, but the girders and siding are definitely showing after reading both of these books.
This isn’t surprising – both books are idea books. Where Little Brother is concerned with personal freedoms and surveillance societies, Makers is concerned with economics, sustainable development, and making money doing cool things. And like Little Brother, the ideas are what make this book worth reading.
Throughout, Doctorow imagines “New Work” – a thrilling idea of decentralized (and yet networked) expertise being used to let people make and work how they want in a sustainable and profitable way. It’s a fascinating vision, and easily ranks up there with his conceptualization of “Whuffie” as a transcendent kind of economics. Unlike Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, where whuffie played an omnipresent but background role, “New Work” is the front-and-center conflict of the story.
The plot is, as mentioned, a bit predictable in the broad outlines. Most of the characters come of a little bit flat as well, making it difficult for me to care about the character’s emotions. A separation or argument simply evoked a “meh”, and the single real “sex scene” came off as gratuitously explicit. What I ended up caring about was the idea – the concept of “New Work”, of working in innovative ways (and seeing some thoughts how the establishment might strike back).
While this book is not Doctorow’s finest fiction, it is a fascinating thought experiment and worth reading for that alone. It is also available for free as a Creative Commons download at his website.