Friday, November 6, 2009

The New New Post Post Cyberpunk Bonanza

by Cory Doctorow
New York : Tor, 2009.

I have been hearing Cory Doctorow's name in various contexts for a few years, now. As a fan of cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk, how could I not have? Yet I never read his work until now. With no clue what to look for, I was happily surprised by Makers.

The book, which was serialized by Tor before its actual publication, bears the cute tag-line, "a Novel of the Whirlwind Changes to Come", and so it seems to be. beginning in a future so near you actually don't know it's not right now, the story follows an economic, technological and social trajectory into a future which wouldn't make half as much sense if you weren't right there to see it. The genius of the story is that, if you have any working knowledge of recent history, that's exactly how the last hundred-and-change years have gone. In some ways, Doctorow's future is more believable because of its retrospective qualities. Another side effect of the story's modern origin is the giddy hilarity that accompanies its creations; good satire hurts so good because of its dreadful familiarity. Makers achieves this with the same flair and foresighted hilarity of Bruce Sterling's Distraction, or William Gibson's Pattern Recognition.

Reading this book caused a litany of vocabulary words to create themselves in my head, a cluster of blog tags waiting to be born. Postmodern came up a lot, but then post-postmodern could equally apply. Ana-Randian, anarcho-libertarian, post-post-postfeminist, neorealist, techno-comedy, none of them necessarily apply, but all of them came from my instinctive need to create some simple descriptors for this literary equivalent of the portmanteau. Try it - you'll find yourself bathing in the salty waters of Doctorow's compelling ambiguity.

That said, I couldn't help but wonder about the suspiciously familiar main characters, and (perhaps not so strangely) self-referential philosophies of the "makers" whose lives are the center of the book. Many of the themes in Makers, including the use of Disney as a foil and example of dizzyingly vast corporate monstrocity, are reminiscent of Doctorow's other projects. Not that I mind. Neal Stephenson is my favorite author, and he does it all the time.

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