Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 49 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

Imagineering sent the prototype up to Sammy as soon as it was ready, the actual engineers who’d been working on it shlepping it into his office.

He’d been careful to cultivate their friendship through the weeks of production, taking them out for beers and delicately letting them know that they were just the sort of people who really understood what Disney Parks was about, not like those philistines who comprised the rest of the management layer at Disney. He learned their kids’ names and forwarded jokes to them by email. He dropped by their break-room and let them beat him at pinball on their gigantic, bizarre, multi-board homebrew machine, letting them know just how cool said machine was.

Now it was paying off. Judging from the device he was looking at, a breadbox-sized, go-away-green round-shouldered smooth box that it took two of them to carry in.

“Watch this,” one of them said. He knocked a complicated pattern on the box’s top and a hidden hatch opened out of the side, yawning out and forming a miniature staircase from halfway down the box’s surface to the ground. There was soft music playing inside the box: a jazzy, uptempo futuristic version of When You Wish upon a Star.

A little man appeared in the doorway. He looked like he was made of pipe-cleaners and he took the stairs in three wobbling strides. He ignored them as he lurched around the box’s perimeter until he came to a far corner, then another hatch slid away and the little man reached inside and tugged out the plug and the end of the power-cord. He hugged the plug to his chest and began to wander around Sammy’s desk, clearly looking for an electrical outlet.

“It’s a random-walk search algorithm,” one of the Imagineers said. “Watch this.” After a couple of circuits of Sammy’s desk the little robot went to the edge and jumped, hanging on to the power-cable, which unspooled slowly from the box like a belay-line, gently lowering the man to the ground. A few minutes later, he had found the electrical outlet and plugged in the box.

The music inside stilled and a fanfare began. The trumpeting reached a joyous peak—”It’s found a network connection”—and then subsided into marching-band music. There was a smell like Saran-Wrap in the microwave. A moment later, another pipe-cleaner man emerged from the box, lugging a chunk of plastic that looked like the base of a rocket in an old-timey science fiction movie.

The first pipe-cleaner man was shinnying up the power cable. He crested the desktop and joined his brother in ferrying out more parts. Each one snapped into the previous one with a Lego-like click. Taking shape on the desktop in slow stages, the original, 1955 Tomorrowland, complete with the rocket to the moon, the Clock of the World and—

“Dairy Farmers of America Present the Cow of Tomorrow?” Sammy said, peering at the little brass plaque on the matchbox-sized diorama, which showed a cow with an IV in her hock, watching a video of a pasture. “You’re kidding me.”

“No!” one Imagineer said. “It’s all for real—the archives have all these tight, high-rez 3D models of all the rides the Park’s ever seen. This is totally historically accurate.”

The Kaiser Aluminum Hall of Fame. The Monsanto Hall of Chemistry. Thimble Drome Flight Circle, with tiny flying miniature airplanes.

“Holy crap,” Sammy said. “People paid to see these things?”

“Go on,” the other Imagineer said. “Take the roof off the Hall of Chemistry.”

Sammy did, and was treated to a tiny, incredibly detailed 3D model of the Hall’s interior exhibits, complete with tiny people in 1950s garb marveling at the truly crappy exhibits.

“We print to 1200 dpi with these. We can put pupils on the eyeballs at that rez.”

The pieces were still trundling out. Sammy picked up the Monsanto Hall of Chemistry and turned it over and over in his hands, looking at the minute detail, admiring the way all the pieces snapped together.

“It’s kind of brittle,” the first Imagineer said. He took it from Sammy and gave it a squeeze and it cracked with a noise like an office chair rolling over a sheet of bubble-wrap. The pieces fell to the desk.

A pipe-cleaner man happened upon a shard after a moment and hugged it to his chest, then toddled back into the box with it.

“There’s a little optical scanner in there—it’ll figure out which bit this piece came from and print another one. Total construction of this model takes about two hours.”

“You built this entire thing from scratch in three weeks?”

The Imagineers laughed. “No, no—no way! No, almost all the code and designs came off the net. Most of this stuff was developed by New Work startups back in the day, or by those ride weirdos down in Hollywood. We just shoved it all into this box and added the models for some of our old rides from the archives. This was easy, man—easy!”

Sammy’s head swam. Easy! This thing was undeniably super-cool. He wanted one. Everyone was going to want one!

“You can print these as big as you want, too—if we gave it enough time, space and feedstock, it’d run these buildings at full size.”

The miniature Tomorrowland was nearly done. It was all brave, sad white curves, like the set of a remake of Rollerball, and featured tiny people in 1950s clothes, sun-dresses and salaryman hats, black-rimmed glasses and scout uniforms for the boys.

Sammy goggled at it. He moved the little people around, lifted off the lids.

“Man, I’d seen the 3D models and flythroughs, but they’re nothing compared to actually seeing it, owning it. People will want libraries of these things. Whole rooms devoted to them.”

“Umm,” one of the Imagineers said. Sammy knew his name, but he’d forgotten it. He had a whole complicated scheme for remembering people’s names by making up stories about them, but it was a lot of work. “Well, about that. This feedstock is very fast-setting, but it doesn’t really weather well. Even if you stored it in a dark, humidity-controlled room, it’d start to delaminate and fall to pieces within a month or two. Leave it in the living room in direct sunlight and it’ll crumble within a couple days.”

Sammy pursed his lips and thought for a while. “Please, please tell me that there’s something proprietary we can require in the feedstock that can make us into the sole supplier of consumables for this thing.”

“Maybe? We could certainly tag the goop with something proprietary and hunt for it when we do the build, refuse to run on anyone else’s goop. Of course, that won’t be hard to defeat—”

“We’ll sue anyone who tries it,” Sammy said. “Oh, boys, you’ve outdone yourselves. Seriously. If I could give you a raise, I would. As it is, take something home from the architectural salvage lot and sell it on eBay. It’s as close to a bonus as this fucking company’s going to pay any of us.”

They looked at him quizzically, with some alarm and he smiled and spread his hands. “Ha ha, only serious boys. Really—take some stuff home. You’ve earned it. Try and grab something from the ride-system itself, that’s got the highest book-value.”

They left behind a slim folder with production notes and estimates, suppliers who would be likely to bid on a job like this. He’d need a marketing plan, too—but this was farther than he ever thought he’d get. He could show this to legal and to the board, and yes, to Wiener and the rest of the useless committee. He could get everyone lined up behind this and working on it. Hell, if he spun it right they’d all be fighting to have their pet projects instantiated with it.

He fiddled with a couple of overnight shippers’ sites for a while, trying to figure out what it would cost to sell these in the Park and have them waiting on the marks’ doorsteps when they got back home. There were lots of little details like that, but ultimately, this was good and clean—it would extend the Parks’ reach right into the living rooms of their customers, giving them a new reason to think of the Park every day.

<<< Back to Part 48

Continue to Part 50>>>

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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