While authors tend not to have a lot of control and say over the images and colors that will grace their books, the publisher must put a lot of work into deciding what the cover of a particular book should be. The cover for Makers does a great job of hinting and implying at the events taking place within its pages: a stacked wall of old, abandoned keyboards, with hanging connector cords; occasional mouses squeezed in here and there, cables also dangling. The keyboards and mouses reveal the subject matter of technological devices that soon become outdated and almost forgotten, as a newer, flashier item replaces it, while technology updates and improves. The key term is obsolete.
It is our near future, between ten and thirty years down the line, as events progress in the book. Percy Gibbons and Lester Banks are makers: they like to make something out of nothing. Specifically they’re interested in inventing new and useful pieces of technology using defunct and obsolete parts, thereby not needing any new, hard to get materials. They soon become employees of a new company – Kodacell (formerly Kodak and Duracell) – as they begin coming up with great and crazy new inventions with a steady paycheck. Journalist Suzanne Church begins to cover their work for the publication she works for, and then starts her own blog covering the rise of Kodacell in popularity and insight with its products, and soon becomes a celebrity in her own right.
But all things must come to an end, like the end of the Dot Com revolution. Time passes, things change, while Gibbons and Banks move onto their next project: an automated theme park of robots that create displays and showcases on the history of technology and its change over time. Viewers, in their own little car, get to choose whether they like a particular display or not, thereby making the robots alter, reconfigure and improve it overnight for the viewing customer. It is a constantly changing and self-replicating enterprise; much better than Disney World which is quite different from today’s park.
Makers is not a chronological book with beginning, middle, and end, but more of a long snapshot into a world that could very well become our own. Doctorow is asking many questions and making many comments on society and where it might be going, addressing subjects like the giants of Wal-Mart and Disney World, as well as the obesity problem with a new and terrifying procedure. Makers works on many levels, not just analyzing technology, but from a business standpoint, as well as a human one where many lives can be affected. It is a novel with a story that shouldn’t be taken as a steadfast message of “this is our future,” but more “this is something that could happen,” and what are your thoughts on it? Or perhaps even: “What are you going to do about it?”
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Originally written on April 11 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.