Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 41 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

Sammy knew he was a dead man. The only thing keeping him alive was legal’s reluctance to read the net. Hackelberg had a couple of juniors who kept watch-lists running on hot subjects, but they liked to print them out and mark them up, and that meant that they lagged a day or two behind the blogosphere.

The Death Waits thing was a freaking disaster. The guy was just supposed to put a scare into him, not cripple him for life. Every time Sammy thought about what would happen when the Death Waits thing percolated up to him, he got gooseflesh.

Damn that idiot thug anyway. Sammy had been very clear. The guy who knew the guy who knew the guy had been reassuring on the phone when Sammy put in the order—sure, sure, nothing too rough, just a little shoving around.

And what’s worse is the idiot kid hadn’t gotten the hint. Sammy didn’t get it. If a stranger beat him half to death and told him to stop hanging out in message-boards, well, the message-boards would go. Damned right they would.

And with Freddy, there was a shoe waiting to drop. Freddy wouldn’t report on their interview, he was pretty sure of that. “Off the record” means something, even to “journalists” like Honest Freddy. But Freddy wasn’t going to be nice to him in follow-ups, that much was sure. And if—when!—Freddy got wind of the Death Waits situation…

He began to hyperventilate.

“I’m going to go check on the construction,” he said to his personal assistant, a new girl they’d sent up when his last one had defected to work for Wiener (Wiener!) after Sammy’d shouted at her for putting through a press-call from some blogger who wanted to know when Fantasyland would be re-opening.

It had been a mistake to shut down Fantasyland just to get the other managers off his back. Sure the rides were sick dogs, but there had been life in them still. Construction sites don’t bring in visitors, and the numbers for the park were down and everyone was looking at him. Never mind that the only reason the numbers had been as high as they were was that Sammy had saved everyone’s ass when he’d done the goth rehab. Never mind that the real reason that numbers were down was that no one else in management had the guts to keep the park moving and improving.

He slowed his step on Main Street, USA, and forced himself to pay attention to his surroundings. The stores on Main Street had been co-opted into helping him dump all the superfluous goth merchandise, and it was in their windows and visible through their doors. The fatkins pizza-stands and ice-cream wagons were doing a brisk trade around the castle roundabout. The crowd was predominantly veering to the left, toward Adventureland and Frontierland and Liberty Square, while the right side of the plaza, which held the gateways to Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, was conspicuously sparse. He’d known that his numbers were down, but standing in the crowd’s flow, he could feel it.

He cleared the castle and stood for a moment at the brink of Fantasyland. It should be impossible to stand here at one in the afternoon—there should be busy rushes of people pushing past to get on the rides and to eat and to buy stuff, but now there were just a few kids in eyeliner puffing cloves in smokeless hookahs and a wasteland of hoardings painted a shade Imagineering called “go-away green” for its ability to make the eye slide right past it.

He’d left the two big coasters open, and they had decent queues, but that was it. No one was in the stores, and no one was bothering with the zombie maze. Clouds of dust and loud destruction noises rose over the hoardings, and he slipped into a staff door and threaded his way onto one of the sites, pausing to pick up a safety helmet with mouse-ears.

At least these crews were efficient. He’d long ago impressed on the department that hired construction contractors the necessity of decommissioning old rides with extreme care so as to preserve as much of the collectible value of the finishings and trim as possible. It was a little weird—Disney customers howled like stuck pigs when you shut down their rides, then fought for the chance to spend fortunes buying up the dismembered corpses of their favored amusements.

He watched some Cuban kids carefully melting the hot glue that had held the skull trim-elements to the pillar of the Dia de los Muertos facade, setting them atop a large pile of other trim—scythes, hooded figures, tombstones—with a layer of aerogel beneath to keep the garriture from scratching. The whole area behind the hoardings was like this— rides in pieces, towers of fiberglass detritus sandwiched between layers of aerogel.

They’d done this before, when he’d taken Fantasyland down, and he’d fretted every moment about how long the tear-down was taking. There were exciting new plans lurking in the wings then, waiting to leap onstage and take shape. He’d had some of the ride components fabricated by a contractor in Kissimmee, but large chunks of the construction had to take place onsite. The advantage had been his: cheap fabricators, new materials, easy collaboration between remote contractors and his people on-site. No one had ever executed new rides as fast and as well as he had. The things had basically built themselves.

Now the competition was using the same tech and it was a fucking disaster for him. Worse and worse: he had no plans for what was to come afterward. He’d thought that he’d just grab some of the audience research people, throw together a fatkins focus group or two, and give Imagineering two weeks to come up with some designs they could put up fast. He knew from past experience that design expanded to fill the time available to it, and that the best stuff usually emerged in the first ten days anyway, and after that it was all committee group-think.

But no one from audience research wanted to return his calls, no one from Imagineering was willing to work for him, and no one wanted to visit a section of the park that was dominated by construction hoardings and demolition dust.

What the hell was happening at the Miami ride, anyway? He could follow it online, run the three-dee flythroughs of the ride as it stood, even download and print his own versions of the ride objects, but none of that told him what it felt like to get on the ride, to be in its clanking bowels, surrounded by other riders, pointing and marveling and laughing at the scenes and motion.

Rides were things that you had to ride to understand. Describing a ride was like talking about a movie—so abstract and remote. Like talking about sex versus having sex.

Sammy loved rides. Or he used to, anyway. So much more than films, so much more than books—so immersive and human, and the whole crowd thing, all the other people waiting to ride it or just getting off it. It had started with coasters—doesn’t every kid love coasters?—but he’d ended up a connoisseur, a gourmand who loved every species of ride, from thrill-rides to monorails, carousels to dark-rides.

There’d been a time when he’d ridden every ride in the park once a week, and every ride in every nearby park once a month. That had been years before. Now he sat in an office and made important decisions and he was lucky if he made it onto a ride once a week.

Not that it mattered anymore. He’d screwed up so bad that it was only a matter of time until he ended up on the bread-line. Or in jail.

He realized he was staring glumly at the demolition, and pulled himself upright, sucked in a few breaths, mentally kicked himself in the ass and told himself to stop feeling sorry for himself.

A young woman pried loose another resin skull finial and added it to the pile, placed another sheet of aerogel on top of it.

People loved these little tchotchkes. They had a relationship with Disney Parks that made them want to come again and again, to own a piece of the place. They came for visits and then they visited in their hearts and they came back to bring their hearts home. It was an extremely profitable dynamic.

That’s what those ride people up in the Wal-Mart were making their hay on—anyone could replicate the ride in their back-yard. You didn’t have to fly from Madison to Orlando to have a little refresher experience. It was right there, at the end of the road.

If only there was some way to put his rides, his park, right there in the riders’ homes, in their literal back-yards. Being able to look at the webcams and take a 3D fly-through was one thing, but it wasn’t the physical, visceral experience of being there.

The maintenance crew had finished all the trim and now they were going after the props and animatronics. They never used to sell these off, because manufacturing the guts of a robot was too finicky to do any more than you had to—it was far better to repurpose them, like the America Sings geese that had all their skin removed and found a new home as smart-talking robots in the pre-show for the old Star Tours.

But now it all could be printed to order, fabbed and shipped in. They weren’t even doing their own machining at Imagineering anymore—that was all mail-order fulfillment. Just email a 3D drawing to a shop and you’d have as many as you wanted the next day, FedEx guaranteed. Sammy’s lips drew back from his teeth as he considered the possibility that the Wal-Mart ride people had ordered their parts from the same suppliers. Christ on a bike, what a mess.

And there, in the pit of despair, at the bottom of his downward arc, Sammy was hit by a bolt of inspiration:

Put Disney into people’s living rooms! Put printers into their homes that decorated a corner of their rooms with a replica of a different ride every day. You could put it on a coffee table, or scale it up to fill your basement rumpus-room. You could have a magic room that was a piece of the park, a souvenir that never let go of Disney, there in your home. The people who were willing to spend a fortune on printed skull finials would cream for this! It would be like actually living there, in the park. It would be Imagineering Eye for the Fan Guy.

He could think of a hundred ways to turn this into money. Give away the printers and sell subscriptions to the refresh. Sell the printers and give away the refreshes. Charge sponsors to modify the plans and target different product placements to different users. The possibilities were endless. Best of all, it would extend the reach of Disney Parks further than the stupid ride could ever go—it would be there, on the coffee table, in the rumpus room, in your school gym or at your summer place.

He loved it. Loved it! He actually laughed aloud. What a great idea! Sure he was in trouble—big trouble. But if he could get this thing going—and it would go, fast—then Hackelberg would get his back. The lawyer didn’t give a shit if Sammy lived or died, but he would do anything to protect the company’s interests.

Sure, no one from Imagineering had been willing to help him design new rides. They all had all the new ride design projects they could use. Audience research too. But this was new, new new, not old new, and new was always appealing to a certain kind of novelty junkie in Imagineering. He’d find help for this, and then he’d pull together a business-plan, and a timeline, and a critical path, and he’d start executing. He wanted a prototype out the door in a week. Christ, it couldn’t be that hard—those Wal-Mart ride assholes had published the full schematics for their toys already. He could just rip them off. Turnabout is fair play, after all.

<<< Back to Part 40

Continue to Part 42>>>

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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