A technological Cinderella story for the next generation of Microserfs

Makers by Cory Doctorow

If you loved Microserfs by Douglas Coupland which chronicled life in Silicon Valley in the 90s, you’ll probably enjoy this which takes the nerds into the near future. Rather than spoofing Microsoft though, it takes Disney as the corporate behemoth that needs taking down a peg.

Perry and Lester are two talented engineers who specialise in making things by recycling toys and gadgets into other electronic gadgets which they sell to collectors. Key to this is the 3D printer – which when filled with ‘goop’ will create any part needed. They subsist in happy chaos in Florida living and working in an old Wal-mart store, living in harmony with a collection of drop-outs and homeless folk who’ve built a nearby shantytown.

Then they get discovered. One of the corporate behemoths, Kodacell (a Kodak-Duracell merger) is looking for a new way of doing business now the markets don’t want their traditional products any more. They think a small is beautiful approach using hundreds of small subsidiaries all networking and using each other is the answer, and want to use Perry and Lester as their flagship. A business manager is sent in, and Suzanne Church – a journalist is implanted to document everything that happens and make sure that the world knows about it.

Inadvertently, all this will hasten the demise of the traditional economy! It goes wild, they’re a hit, but what they hadn’t bargained for is that Perry and Lester are liberal types – big business isn’t really their thing and they’d rather carry on tinkering and helping the homeless. They also have a love of retro-electronics and create a ‘ride’ that celebrates it and also evolves. This becomes the surprise highlight of a holiday in Florida for many. Enter Disney, and as Perry and Lester’s technology gets hijacked, things start to go seriously wrong…

This was a dense and chunky novel – far too long at 416 pages in the hardback format – but generally entertaining to read. Although the characterisation is far from perfect and the writing was a bit clunky, you couldn’t help but like Perry and Lester, loveable underdogs who get out of their depth; Suzanne as the hack with a heart of gold was somewhat sad – sacrificing any life of her own for the story. You could also feel some sympathy for the good guys of the business world who tried to help the small fry, but the baddies were portrayed as real pantomime villains in this technological Cinderella story, very shallow indeed.

There was one sub-plot I didn’t like – regarding a Russian technological miracle to cure obesity – the ‘Fatkins’ programme. While having a serious point to make, it got in the way of the main story. I wasn’t entirely sure where Doctorow was going with the shantytown either, or am I missing the obvious in that the poor will always be with us?

Overall – this is a novel of big ideas – and I could imagine some of them happening! (8/10)

(Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme).

P.S. I learned a new word last week courtesy of James May’s Toy Stories (new series on BBC2). That word is ‘sprue’ . In injection moulding, the sprue is the framework through which the material goes into a mould and is cut off afterwards. The super cover of this book shows a great example!

0 thoughts on “A technological Cinderella story for the next generation of Microserfs

  1. Steph says:

    I haven't read Microserfs yet, but I do have a copy of it that I can't wait to get to, as I just discovered Douglas Coupland this year and now have crazy love for him. As for this book, I read a blurb about this book a few weeks ago, and felt like there was A LOT going on in it. One of the things that I like about Coupland is that his writing is so sharp, so even though there are parallels between this and Microserfs, I'm sorry to hear that Doctorow's writing wasn't as strong. That being said, I could certainly see checking this one out in the future, as the premise does sound interesting enough and clearly there's never a dull moment.

  2. Annabel Gaskell says:

    You're right – there is a LOT going on in this book – well put! It was fun though and I love speculative fiction.I hope you enjoy Microserfs – It's years since I read it – I might look it out again.

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