Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 7 (of 81)

Illustration by Idiots’Books

“They need the tools to make any other tools,” is what Perry said when he returned from the hospital, the side of his head still swaddled in bandages that draped over his injured eye. They’d shaved his head at his insistence, saying that he wasn’t going to try to keep his hair clean with all the bandages. It made him look younger, and his fine skull-bones stood out through his thin scalp when he finally came home. Before he’d looked like a outdoorsman engineer: now he looked like a radical, a pirate.

“They need the tools that will let them build anything else, for free, and use it or sell it.” He gestured at the rapid prototyping machines they had, the 3D printer and scanner setups. “I mean something like that, but I want it to be capable of printing out the parts necessary to assemble another one. Machines that can reproduce themselves.”

Francis shifted in his seat. “What are they supposed to do with those?”

“Everything,” Perry said, his eye glinting. “Make your kitchen fixtures. Make your shoes and hat. Make your kids’ toys—if it’s in the stores, it should be a downloadable too. Make toolchests and tools. Make it and build it and sell it. Make other printers and sell them. Make machines that make the goop we feed into the printers. Teach a man to fish, Francis, teach a man to fucking fish. No top-down ‘solutions’ driven by ‘market research’”—his finger-quotes oozed sarcasm—“the thing that we need to do is make these people the authors of their own destiny.”

They put up the sign that night: AUTHOR OF YOUR OWN DESTINY, hung over the workshop door. Suzanne trailed after Perry transcribing the rants that spilled out of his mouth as he explained it to Lester and Francis, and then to Kettlewell when he called, and then to the pretty young black lady from the TV who by now had figured out that there was a real story in her backyard, then to an NPR man on the phone, and then to a CNN crew who drove in from Miami and filmed the shantytown and the workshop like Japanese tourists at Disney World, never having ventured into the skanky, failed strip-mall suburbs just outside of town.

Francis had a protege who had a real dab touch with the 3-D printers. The manufacturer, Lester’s former employer, had been out of business for two years by then, so all the service on the machines had to be done on the premises. Francis’s protege—the one who claimed his mother had pushed his father under a bus, his name was Jason—watched Lester work on recalcitrant machines silently for a couple days, then started to hand him the tool he needed next without having to be asked. Then he diagnosed a problem that had stumped Lester all morning. Then he suggested an improvement to the feedstock pump that increased the mean time between failures by a couple hours.

“No, man, no, not like that,” Jason said to one of the small gang of boys he was bossing. “Gently, or you’ll snap it off.” The boy snapped it off and Jason pulled another replacement part out of a tub and said, “See, like this,” and snapped it on. The small gang of boys regarded him with something like awe.

“How come no girls?” Suzanne said as she interviewed him while he took a smoke-break. Perry had banned cigarettes from all indoor workshops, nominally to keep flames away from the various industrial chemicals and such, but really just to encourage the shantytowners to give up the habit that they couldn’t afford anyway. He’d also leaned on the shantytowners who’d opened up small shops in their houses to keep cigs out of the town, without a lot of success.

“Girls aren’t interested in this stuff, lady.”

“You think?” There was a time when she would have objected, but it was better to let these guys say it out loud, hear themselves say it.

“No. Maybe where you come from, OK? Don’t know. But here girls are different. They do good in school but when they have babies they’re done. I mean, hey, it’s not like I don’t want girls in the team, they’d be great. I love girls. They fuckin’ work, you know. No bullshit, no screwing around. But I know every girl in this place and none of ’em are even interested, OK?”

Suzanne cocked one eyebrow just a little and Jason shifted uncomfortably. He scratched his bare midriff and shuffled. “I do, all of them. Why would they? One girl, a roomful of boys, it’d be gross. They’d act like jerks. There’s no way we’d get anything done.”

Suzanne lifted her eyebrow one hair higher. He squirmed harder.

“So all right, that’s not their fault. But I got enough work, all right? Too much to do without spending time on that. It’s not like any girls have asked to join up. I’m not keeping them out.”

Suzanne jotted a couple of notes, keeping perfectly mum.

“Well, I’d like to have them in the workshop, OK? Maybe I should ask some of them if they’d come. Shit, if I can teach these apes, I can teach a girl. They’re smart. Girls’d made this place a little better to work in. Lots of them trying to support their families, so they need the money, too.”

There was a girl there by the afternoon. The next day, there were two more. They seemed like quick studies, despite their youth and their lip-gloss. Suzanne approved.

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Continue to Part 8 >>>

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As part of the ongoing project of crafting’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.

Doctorow’s Makers will be released in print by Tor Books in October. You can read all previous installments of Makers on on our index page.


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