Sunday, 4 December 2011

Makers - too much tech, too little else

Makers by Cory Doctorow (Harper Collins: 2009). The story of two tech/engineering entrepreneurs who love to make stuff, and are at the centre of a new business boom that sees big money invest in communal tech start ups – a phenomena dubbed “New Work”. The whole thing is documented by an online journalist, who follows our two entrepreneurs as they test the boundaries of their community driven innovations.
Hands up, I totally flaked out last week. Was home for the weekend and didn’t get back till Sunday afternoon. I could have posted a review on Sunday evening, but I didn’t. Lazy, that’s all. Sorry.
I’ve also made a fatal error. I’ve got right into a book that’s a bit big. A lot big actually. And it’s taking me a while to get through. I blame Katy Atkins, who recommended it a few weeks ago. I bought it and now I can’t put it down. I’m really enjoying it. But it’s going to take a few weeks to finish.
So I thought it’d be worth going back and telling you about something else on my bookshelf that I read a while ago. It’s the one I was reading about this time last year I think, so there’s at least some relevance there.
Cory Doctorow (I didn’t know this when I picked the book up to begin with) is something of a celebrity in the online world. He was named as one of the world’s top 25 internet influencers (whatever that means). I’m not going to pretend I fully understand most of what he writes, blogs, lectures and debates about, but suffice to say he’s well down with the 2.0 world.
And Makers is positively soaking in all that stuff. It brings up some properly interesting possibilities, even for a technology caveman like me. What’s all the more compelling is that none of this is 25th century sort of stuff. It’s all got a very real world context, and the technology is of the in-the-not-too-distant-future sort. From what I understand, there are people ferreting away as we speak to make this technology a reality. Hell, for all I know, this stuff is possible right now.
But it’s not just technology that Doctorow explores in Makers, he stretches his theme to explore the business patterns and societal changes that the technology is tied up with. He does a good job of interlinking all of the above without ever presenting one as leading the others. Technology, society, business – it’s all moving and changing from page to page.
It all knitted together well. The plot progression made sense. Doctorow’s soaring imagination was there, but reigned in just enough to keep it true. All good points.
But me, I found it all a bit too glossy. The people in the book never really came to life for me. At all. There was so much emphasis on the innovation that the human side was ignored a little I think. No doubt, the characters all had interesting arcs, they all had important parts to play in the plot and they all seemed to represent something, but I felt like you could write the entire essence of each one down on an index card.
I don’t know how good writers take a fictional person and make them reach-out-and-touch real by using nothing more than words on a page, but they do. We’ve all read great examples of it. We all know it’s possible. I don’t know how it happens, but when it does I recognise it. And it didn’t happen here.
I just didn’t care about these guys.
Not every book needs every ingredient though, I guess. Makers has plenty of them. It was interesting. It was imaginative. It was ambitious. It opened my eyes to a few new possibilities. It was original.
But it drowned it the concepts that dominated it. It lacked emotion. And it lacked a bit of humanity.
I don’t regret picking it up. It kept me interested. But I won’t be picking it up again.
Next week all depends on whether I finish my current big book (thanks a bunch, Atkins...) So it’ll either be that one (a debut masterpiece from a Scottish writer) or it’ll be something else from the shelf.
I bet you can’t wait.

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