Today’s Music: Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends (See what I did there?)
So I finally finished one of the books I’ve been reading.
I enjoyed the hell out of this book.
A Quick Summary
The story takes place in a not-too-distant dystopian future.
The two main characters, Lester and Perry, are able to create fantastical whimsical technological creations out of thin air. They start the “New Work” movement that ends up touching 1 in 5 Americans. They are joined by Susan, the former reporter turned tech blogger, Tjan, the finance guy,and Kettlewell, the CEO type.
Together, they try to make the world into what they want it to be.
The story takes place in several parts.
First, we meet most of the main characters, and they create the New Work movement. Everyone is empowered to create and market their own inventions, using 3D printers to produce. The movement starts in a shantytown in Florida, and burgeons across the country and around the world.
Next, after New Work has faded, Perry and Lester create The Ride. It’s an homage to all the inventions of New Work, and riders vote for what they like or not. 3D printers and robotic worms remake the ride continuously to reflect the votes.
Several other incarnations of the ride spring up in other cities, and are networked together so that changes in one are reflected in the other.
The penultimate part brings our heroes into conflict with a futuristic version of Disney.
The final part brings a solid, satisfying resolution to almost all the storylines.
And of course, there is a very nice epilogue, that wraps up the story but avoids a “happily ever after” finish.
Why I Liked It
It’s a tight story. While the trade Paperback edition clocks in at 416 pages, there was not a lot of fat on it. Supporting characters get their time, but are mostly used to illustrate or reinforce the point the story is getting at. In one case, a minor character passes through twice, both times spinning the story and pushing it further forward.
While the story is not hardcore spaceships and lasers sci-fi, it does have a lot of techno-speculation, such as the possible future of 3D printing. And it posits a future of higher unemployment and the outdating of corporations that is not hard to imagine from where we stand today.
The characters have good senses of humor, and stay consistent to themselves throughout the book. Yes, they change, but not so dramatically that it feels like you’re meeting a new person.
Doctorow handles his dialogue well, although the sex scene he wrote was..well…odd. Not freakish or kinky, just odd – more clinical than lustful/romantic/engaging.
He created a cast of characters that I, as a reader, became invested in. I wanted to know how Perry would deal with being pulled away from his inventing to oversee other Rides. I cared about whether Susan would come back from Russia, or if Freddy would get his in the end.
And like a good book should, this one completely transported me into it’s world.
Like I said, I enjoyed it. If you like Philip K. Dick but don’t want to go quite as dark (this one did have a somewhat happy ending), or if you want some sci-fi that doesn’t stretch credibility too much, this might be a good pick for you.
And let me know what you’re reading in the comments, too.