Starting today around noon (Eastern Standard Tribe, of course) and through January 2010, Tor.com will be serializing Makers, Cory Doctorow’s upcoming novel, which goes on sale from Tor Books in November. We’ll be serializing the entirety of the novel, with a new installment every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Each installment of Makers will be accompanied by a new illustration from Idiots’Books, each one a kind of tile that will interconnect with the other illustrations in the series, offering limitless possibilities for mixing and matching. In a week or so, after we’ve posted a number of tiles, we’ll release a Flash game in which you will be able to re-arrange the illustration tiles on a grid and create your own combination of layouts and designs.
I first discovered Cory Doctorow on Salon.com, when he serialized his novella, Themepunks, sometime around 2005. Like all good gateway drugs, Themepunks made me sit up and pay attention. I devoured Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and Eastern Standard Tribe followed right after. Here was a guy who was using SF in one of the ways I like it used best: as a vehicle for working through the ways technology is changing our society.
Cut to a year or so ago. A casual conversation with Cory’s editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, prompted me to lament the fact that Salon’s serialization of Themepunks was sadly unfinished—according to Cory’s note at the end of the posts on Salon.com, what had been syndicated was merely one third of the entire story he wanted to tell. “Don’t worry,” PNH replied. “That’s what he’s coming out with right after Little Brother. Wanna read it?”
W00t. (And hell yes I wanted to read it!)
Cut to late last year. As PNH, Irene Gallo, my boss and I are sitting around playing with ideas for experiments in publishing on Tor.com for the upcoming year, the notion of serializing Themepunks on the site pops up. It seems like a no-brainer; Cory’s written the book in short-ish chunks which lend themselves to serialization, the publication of the printed book is far enough away for us to be able to plan accordingly, and the work has been serialized before, so there’s some sort of nice symmetry to it. Except it’s no longer called Themepunks—now it’s simply called Makers, and after PNH gave us the second and third parts of the final book to read, we were all convinced that there was no better way to usher this work into the world than by trying out this new/old idea (remember, work form authors like Dickens and Verne first saw print as serializations in periodicals, too). We quickly put together a proposal and sent it to Cory. His response: Go for it!
So we were off to the races, but we didn’t simply want to replicate what was going to be in the printed edition from Tor Books—after all, the web isn’t static, and part of what we’re trying to do with Tor.com is looking for ways to take advantage of the web in order to try out new things. So for starters, since we’re not limited to black and white on the web, it was decided early on that each separate piece of Makers could and would have its own color illustration. Considering that we planned to split the book into roughly 80 parts, it was going to be a challenge to find an artist (or artists) with the time, the chops, and the vision to really tackle a project of this scope. Enter Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, the bookmaking mad-people better known as Idiots’Books. Irene Gallo and Liz Gorinsky brought Matthew and Robbi to the project, and they dove right in, coming up with an utterly kick-ass concept for the series of illustrations, which is best explained by simply quoting Matthew’s pitch:
Each segment of the story will be illustrated by a square illustration that relates, at least in part, to the theme or content of that segment. While each illustration will function as a standalone “illustration,” each one will will be drawn in such a way as to share common crossovers along all four sides, which means that any of the illustrations may be placed alongside any other illustration (and in any axial configuration) with guaranteed “crossovers”. [These] will form a coherently-designed 8 x 9 grid of illustrations when the thing is fully assembled. There will be one “right” way for the illustrations to be assembled; in this configuration, an uber-illustration with visual coherence that stands as the “cover” of the Makers book will be revealed. However, the chunks can be recombined into a vast number of other [9 x 9] grids. Or it could be assembled into a [3 x 27] grid. Or it could be assembled as a -panel horizontal “comic.” Or it could be made into a sprawling, multi-tentacled beast of surprising crossovers that resembled a crossword puzzle in its grid-based unpredictably.”
Or it could be totally fucking awesome, which is exactly what it’s turned out to be. We were blown away, and Idiots’Books got to work on what we now refer to as the Makers Tiles. Along the road, Matthew also suggested that we could make the illustrations into a Flash tile game. This would nicely echo the DIY concepts from Makers that Robbi’s illustrations and layout scheme were already riffing off of, so we decided to get crackin’ on that, too. Once there are a substantial number of tiles up, and we can populate the game, we’ll take it live. Matthew and Robbi will have more details about additional Makers Tiles-related projects and happenings on their Barnstorming blog (although you may have to wait for them a bit, since they’ve gone commercial salmon fishing in Alaska for a few weeks). The tiles are made to be played with, after all , and we can’t wait to see what people come up with.
As we got closer to the go-live date for Makers, I asked Cory if he wanted to dedicate the sections in Makers in the way he had the chapters in Little Brother, with a mention of a bookseller or bookstore which had affected him in some way. He declined (which was a smart move, since there will be upwards of 80 sections to this serialization!), and instead suggested that our readers share some of their favorite booksellers or bookstores with the rest of the community in the comments sections after each post. So that’s what we’ll do: we’ll turn the comments sections of Makers into big swap meets, where people can exchange info and stories about their favorite book places and book people.
We’re all really excited about Makers at Tor.com—we think it’s a good and important book, just like Little Brother was before it. We also think that this is a fun and interesting way to send a novel out into the world, and we’re looking forward to hearing what you think. As the year progresses, and we get deeper into serializing the book, we’ll make other announcements about things we may do with this book as we explore alternatives to traditional publishing. Cory is an awesome guy to work with, and in keeping with his overarching philosophy in regards to creative works, has been very supportive of our playing around with his baby. We hope you enjoy what we’ve come up with.