Cory Doctorow Talks About the Future of the Novel, Including His OwnS

Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother, releases his new novel Makers in a few weeks. It's about amusement park ride hackers, and most of it is already online. We talked to Doctorow about Makers and the future of novel-writing.

io9: How did you do research for Makers?

CD: Most of the stuff I write I haven't set out to research. I live the life I live, and out of it comes the books I write. I hang out in hacker spaces and that inspired me to write this book.

Were you thinking about MAKE: magazine when you worked on the novel?

Makers predates MAKE. I had an idea about doing a book on amusement parks and merchandising. I was revisiting some of my fanboy stuff in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Because of that book, I have a sizable audience of people who work in Disney theme parks. So I'd hang out with them. I'd hang out with imagineers. I got to see the inside of the Disney culture, and that was part of the inspiration for this novel.

In terms of research, I'm doing a book now called For The Win and I knew a lot of action would be in the Pacific Rim in the subcontinent. So I went to China and India. I tend to get super obsessively geeky about stuff I'm interested in just as a matter of course. The stuff I'm chasing for BoingBoing I get deep on anyway. Facts are cheap. The zeitgeist is hard to absorb, and that's what you get from reporting and dropping in on people's spaces.

What is your opinion about the future of books? Is print dying?

I'm the contrarian – I don't think print is dying out at all. I'm a Kindle skeptic and ebook reader skeptic. My hypothesis is that it's harder to do one thing at a time with a computer. It's hard to consume a novel in 5 minute snippets punctuated by RSS checking. And ebook readers will have those functions. I don't think that supports novel reading.

We won't have custom-tailored electronics for novels, so no I don't think ebook will rise. We'll read books with things like Android, mobiles that are general purpose computers. I do pleasure reading in places where it's not practical to bring out an ebook reader anyway.

I look forward to the rise of the device untethered to the phone company. The mobile continues to be uninteresting because the entrenched players don't want truly disruptive, generative devices in their chain.

Do you think that the move toward reading on mobiles will mean that the novel dies out as an art form? What will be the next form?

Think of it this way. You start with a single textual medium, and then somebody invents newspapers. Then you have another new medium, and it's peeled off into magazines and zines. There are stories lurking in potentia that are sui generis to networked devices. We know that they don't require protracted attention. They have to be designed to be copied and they probably don't require that you consume all of them. Maybe they're like ARGs and soaps. ARGs have the economics of films and the audiences of novels. They require a deep level of engagement.

That's great for some audiences, but like Lost they lose their way. One of the things about mystery series: they have to get weirder. At the end of the season they have to hit a cliffhanger where a secret will be revealed. But if they get renewed they can't reveal it. So the audience gets smaller and weirder. And it's harder to join that audience. You can't reboot the complexity.

Novels are competing for attention with other media that can be peeled off from them. At the same time, novels are social objects and the web is social technology. My novels diffuse through the web in what tends to be a social context. I get new downloads because a bunch of Livejournal people are discussing it. The web makes it easier for people who love books to turn those books into part of their identities. That makes people buy books more. And it's cheaper to make them, as well as easier to get direct compensation.

So as for the future of the novel - it's both dying and not dying. You win some new readers, and you lose some.

You can pre-order Makers via Amazon, or read it for free online. Tor.com is serializing the whole novel, posting a new free chapter every week. Check it out here.

Image by Idiots' Books.