Cory Doctorow's


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  1. Cory’s short-short story “Printcrime” in this month’s Nature magazine

    I have a short-short story on the back page of this month’s Nature magazine, which just hit the stands today. The story’s called “Printcrime,” and it’s a little dystopian/utopian story about 3D printers and totalitarianism. Nature has generously grante…

    Trackback by Boing Boing — January 12, 2006 @ 6:23 pm

  2. Fantastic! Particularly that last line, therein lies the revolution.

    Comment by Andrew — January 12, 2006 @ 6:40 pm

  3. I loved it! I truly believe that there is a fine art in producing a good short story. This one left me thinking and wanting more.

    Comment by Casimir — January 12, 2006 @ 6:43 pm

  4. If printing more printers was possible, wouldn’t it have been the first thing anyone tried to do with one?

    Comment by Frank — January 12, 2006 @ 7:14 pm

  5. Really really great. It’s amazing how science fiction can give you a little boost of optimism when the present day is looking bleak.

    Comment by Owen — January 12, 2006 @ 7:15 pm

  6. Please tell me the refills will be non-proprietary ;)
    Great job, Cory.
    Keep up the fight.

    Comment by Derek Martin — January 12, 2006 @ 7:15 pm

  7. Excellent!

    I think that your use of the word ‘manky’, shows that you are picking up on English slang nicely…

    Comment by Tom Reynolds — January 12, 2006 @ 7:17 pm

  8. Awesome. Fantastic piece of flash fiction Cory, with an awesome ending. And I must say for a Canuck you got the Brit tones down pat. Though you do live here I suppose.

    Comment by Dave Goodman — January 12, 2006 @ 7:40 pm

  9. awesome -thanks for sharing

    Comment by the lorider — January 12, 2006 @ 7:55 pm

  10. Wow. Brightened up my day and did it so quick that I didn’t feel guilty reading it at work. Good day.

    Comment by LazyBoy — January 12, 2006 @ 8:32 pm

  11. Good point Frank. The problem with printing printers lies in that like the blender they would need rebuilt or reprinted in a month or so.
    IF logic stays the same. Unless printers have advanced greatly in the last 10 yrs Da was in Jail.

    Great story! Makes me think of all the folding projects out there for Paper PSPs and iPods etc.

    Comment by Josh — January 12, 2006 @ 8:40 pm

  12. Not necessarily, Josh. The problem seemed to lie in the moving parts of the blender. If the printer’s got limited moving parts, then those are the only things that’d need replacing. So you might need to re-print the gimbals your laser assembly and goop squirter sit on, but not the whole thing.

    Of course, the fact that the printers can produce pharmaceuticals implies that they’re doing some pretty significant chemical or molecular manipulation, raising the question of why they can’t produce materials hard enough to last in a blender. Steel is a whole lot simpler to produce than most drugs, and synthetic corundum or diamond shouldn’t be out of the question.

    Comment by Devin — January 12, 2006 @ 9:18 pm

  13. Since this is a Cory Doctorow story, I’d assume the reason people with printers hadn’t been using them to make more printers is the same reason the MPAA wasn’t happy about the VCR: if you’re the only one who can produce something, you can sell it. If you’ve got the only printer on your block, you can use it as your livelihood. If you make one for everybody, you’ve gotta find another job.

    I’m wondering about the goop: if printers can’t produce it, it really doesn’t matter how many there are.

    Comment by Steve — January 12, 2006 @ 9:31 pm

  14. I’m surprised he’s not printing guns and body armor.

    Comment by horkle — January 12, 2006 @ 9:33 pm

  15. Great story! Coincidentally, here is a related story from

    Comment by Mike Butler — January 12, 2006 @ 9:39 pm

  16. In the day of loafty cheap parts printers I’d think local hardware stores would stock an assortment of standard sized bearings, hinges, ect. much similar to the standardized machine screws/ect. that we take for granted.

    That way ya could crack open that pesty aging, under-used breadmaker like a nut and take its small engine; pick up a #12 sealed bearing from the corner munchies, gas, and geek market; and print out the rest of the blender from plans designed around the motor and bearings.

    Comment by icecow — January 12, 2006 @ 10:49 pm

  17. If you have a printer that can produce printers, the first I’d do would be to produce a spare printer. :)

    Comment by foregone conclusions — January 12, 2006 @ 11:13 pm

  18. The question of printing more printers is not a technological one,
    but one of economics. Fewer printers create black markets for goods like “laptops” and “pharma”, but if eveyone has that ability then people are free to print what they need, like, say a “birdcage”.
    Power to the people.

    Comment by Saint Paul Saint — January 12, 2006 @ 11:16 pm

  19. Cory, it says ‘copy this story’ at the top. Is that meant to be a license of some sort?

    Comment by Michael Bernstein — January 12, 2006 @ 11:37 pm

  20. Naw, that’s just the strap-line the editors put on the story. I like it, though!

    Comment by Cory Doctorow — January 12, 2006 @ 11:42 pm

  21. I like it too. It’s bitchun.

    That said, is it covered by the CC license (Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial 1.0) at the bottom of this page?

    Comment by Michael Bernstein — January 13, 2006 @ 12:31 am

  22. Very groovy, Cory. Thanks for posting it here.

    Comment by Jason Erik Lundberg — January 13, 2006 @ 3:17 am

  23. Big props to Cory for getting a ‘Nature’ publication!

    I work in an Australian University that – because of a number of substantial ‘reforms’ currently being pushed on the higher education sector by the Howard Government – is becoming increasingly obsessed with journal ‘impact factors’ as a measure of (a). the overall quality of the university’s research output; and (b). the quality of individual academics and research groups within the university. Quite simply, the more publications one has in high ranking journals, the brighter one’s future in academia. Very little else matters.

    For these reasons, getting something published in Nature – a journal that consistently ranks in the top 10, and had a 2004 impact factor of 32.182 – would be a wet-dream come true for most of the people I work with!

    So once again, well done Cory!

    p.s., There is an interesting article about impact factors in the Chronicle of Higher Education here.

    Cc. BoingBoing.

    Comment by pete — January 13, 2006 @ 8:32 am

  24. I’d be interested to know how a printer made from goop can manipulate said goop into its final form without its internal parts reliquifying.

    Perhaps the goop has a one-way reaction chain as part of its makeup? Or exposure to air hardens it permanently? Then there’s the whole question of whether the final products are biodegradeable or recyclable, and how durable they can be.

    And of course, the source and legal use of the goop may well be heavily government-controlled and -regulated.

    Here’s a twist – what if he produced printers which, once a week without fail, cloned themselves?

    Sure, individual units could be hacked to disable this feature. Goop could be withheld (making the printer useless, but there ya go). But as a default behaviour, they’d replicate geometrically. Average folks would start by giving them to their family, then their friends and neighbours, then anyone, then having them pile up and having to be recycled or thrown away (where they might be found by still others). Eventually, people would stop feeding the breeding models and look for non-breeding printers, but by then everyone would have a printer of some kind and the damage would have been done.

    As a side-effect, no-one would ever worry about having a broken printer, as they would either have a couple of spares lying around, or could find someone in their neighbourhood to grab one off. If the material of broken printers was able to be turned back into goop, that would be even better, as broken and excess printers wouldn’t pile up all over the planet.

    Hmm… for a giggle, substitute “polymerisable hydrocarbons, such as those found in petroleum products” for “goop”. Run your printer off the same stuff you put in your gas tank. Let’s see the governments of the world try and restrict access to THAT source of carbon chains. Grab oxygen and nitrogen from the air and print out plastics, kerosene, carbon fibre and nanotubes, buckyballs, water, TNT, diamonds, basic fertiliser, ammonia and cleaning compounds, hydrogen gas, CO2, carbonic acid, and most other simple organic compounds. Basically, anything without metals or exotic elements would be fair game.

    I wonder if a plastic/nanotube/diamond computer would be possible? Need more computing power? Just print it. More pixels, bit storage, peripherals? Say the word. Sure, they wouldn’t be as cheap-in-bulk, powerful or efficient as products that big industry could produce, but they’d be free, instantly accessible, and EVERYWHERE.

    Not to mention what could be done if a printer could chew up sand and rock to extract the silicon.

    Comment by Anonymous — January 13, 2006 @ 12:17 pm

  25. Cory, what a wonderful piece of work! I’ve read many book-length works without as much to say as this piece had. Kudos!

    Comment by DarrellH — January 13, 2006 @ 6:37 pm

  26. That was a great two minutes. I don’t think I’ve read anything that short before.

    Comment by wapa — January 14, 2006 @ 10:59 am

  27. “Steel is a whole lot simpler to produce than most drugs”… that depends on the tools that you have available. and the materials, materials are important.

    Comment by Chaps — January 18, 2006 @ 4:58 pm

  28. This is happening right now in a worldwide project instigated by me last year. See

    Adrian Bowyer
    University of Bath

    Comment by Adrian Bowyer — January 19, 2006 @ 3:27 pm

  29. I LOVE this story! For those of you who like the concept be aware that there is an open source technology project are designing and building the first of these kinds of printer right now in real life. The project was conceived and is being directed by Professor Adrian Bowyer at the University of Bath in the UK.

    You can visit the project’s web site at…

    Great job, Cory! Keep up the good work!

    Comment by plaasjaapie — January 20, 2006 @ 4:50 am

  30. Yes, diamond should be very doable… if you are working at the molecular level. Scanning probe microscopes have been used to move individual silicon atoms in a silicon crystal–in 1994!

    I don’t think the same has been done for diamond yet, but Freitas has suggested a research approach that should provide a proof of concept with today’s tools.

    More papers on molecular mechanosynthesis listed at:

    If you can build a 100-nanometer scanning probe microscope, basic scaling laws suggest that it should be able to build its own mass of product, a few atoms at a time, in about 100 seconds.,Feb (Yes, the comma-Feb is part of the URL, sorry)

    Once tiny scanning probes are developed, huge numbers of them could be combined in efficient arrays to make a tabletop nano-based printer, or nanofactory. The following paper is old, and even more efficient designs have been proposed, but it’s still got a lot of useful information.

    The previous two links were written by me. I co-founded the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology to explore nano-based “printer” type technology. The CRN web site contains lots of information on the technical aspects and also the societal implications (which may be far more scary than policemen with truncheons). for our papers
    Lots of science essays at the “basic scaling laws” link above

    Oh, and Cory– great story! Whether it’s RepRap or nanofactory, personal ownership of printers/factories is a question we’ll have to confront… soon. (How soon? Probably before 2020: )


    Comment by Chris Phoenix — January 24, 2006 @ 6:16 am

  31. Nice one, Cory.

    I’ve been thinking about the economic implications of nanofactories myself.

    Think of the pure informational products that you can now already get for free (which doesn’t mean legal): music, movies, book, software.

    Think of what you might be getting for free (and once again, not necessarily legal) in the future if you’ve got yourself a nanofac…

    Well… basically everything. All it takes is a feed of raw atoms, and a product design freely available on the Internet.

    What will this do to the economy?

    I’d say it will lead to quite a transformation.

    Let’s hope the CRNano Taskforce will come up with some interesting ideas on this.

    Comment by Jan-Willem Bats — January 24, 2006 @ 8:59 am

  32. You can sew your own clothes, prepare your own food, drink OpenCola, use Linux, build your own computer, watch independant films, and read some Cory Doctorow stories for free. To name a few.

    And yet there’s still clothes companies, restaurants, Coke and Pepsi, Microsoft, Dell, movie production companies, and Cory is still selling books.

    Would these printers really change everything so much?

    Comment by Adam Keen — January 24, 2006 @ 7:34 pm

  33. “Printers” sound much like “The Seed,” Neal Stephensen’s McGuffin in Diamond Age. Or maybe his “matter compilers” with goop substituting for Feeds. He made a pretty good attempt to describe a society with fully-realized nanotechnology, but it was never clear to me how the economic system hung together (to the extent that it did). Food, clothing, and shelter seemed to be free, and they could manufacture living space. Why did they have muggers?

    Comment by Bob Munck — January 26, 2006 @ 7:31 pm

  34. Here is the link for the story in French (With Cory’s permission)

    Comment by Rigas — January 30, 2006 @ 6:58 pm

  35. “To make laws that man cannot, and will not obey, serves to bring all law into contempt.”
    –[[ |Elizabeth Cady Stanton]]

    Comment by Nato Welch — January 31, 2006 @ 7:08 pm

  36. The means of production! *falls over chuckling* You really got that down conscisely, we need it, too many of your predecessors were not nearly so succinct, and this is all anyone has time for anymore :S

    Why are so many other comments bubbling about hypothetical technology? Confusing the medium for the message?

    Comment by Harmless — February 3, 2006 @ 9:56 am

  37. Great story. Love the shortness of it – stuff with an impact is best delivered in “shotglass” doses.

    The ending felt like it was handed to us, though:

    “Lanie, I’m going to print more printers. Lots more printers. One for everyone. That’s worth going to jail for. That’s worth anything.”

    I think the last two sentences mute the impact. Let us think about why he would do such a thing, you know?

    Wonderful job, though.

    Comment by Chris — November 9, 2006 @ 4:54 am

  38. Great short-short, Cory! And, for a short-short, it’s amazing how loooooong a tail of comments it has produced :))

    Comment by hnu — January 10, 2007 @ 7:11 pm

  39. This is a great little piece. I am using it as the basis for the first reading response assignment in my freshman comp class.

    Comment by JM — January 17, 2007 @ 5:32 pm

  40. I couldn’t resist helping make this comments thread longer than the original story :) Fantastic read, like all the other stories in Overclocked! Very poignant, especially the ending. I love this kind of relevant allegory, too.

    Comment by Joel Falconer — February 18, 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  41. This has been made into a PG ebook, but the license details are missing, and it is less than clear from this page what they are… Is this text under CC by-nd-nc/1.0, or a specific permission for Cory to publish it here, or what? In any case, a quick email to clarifying the license status of this work would be nice.

    The gutenberg link is:

    Comment by Linker — May 5, 2007 @ 8:37 am

  42. These prototype printers exist, but their eventual future will lie in a bucket of nanobots that will assemble the final product from the raw materials you dump in it. Perhaps these printers once refined can produce the nanobots that will over several steps produce the final nanobots. Beware the gray goo! What a nightmare cornucopia can be!

    Comment by Andrew Elliot — July 4, 2008 @ 10:59 am

  43. Funnily enough, I found one of these Printcrime booklets (small little ‘folded up’ in booklet or ‘zine’ form) on the TTC in Toronto a few months back.

    I still have the copy lying around in my apartment somewhere, it was quite a good read.

    Comment by David McKendrick — August 3, 2008 @ 7:38 am

  44. Cool story, I just came across it. Reminds me of an old Damon Knight novel called “A For Anything” so I guess there’s sort of an archetype underlying both.

    Comment by phr — August 3, 2008 @ 10:07 pm

  45. Made me smile. I might have to read more of your works.

    Comment by Aku Kotkavuo — August 22, 2008 @ 3:16 pm

  46. Here’s a Filipino translation of this short-story:

    Comment by Paul "The Pageman" Pajo — August 23, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

  47. Whoa, fiction can do that?

    Comment by Dane — August 24, 2008 @ 9:53 am

  48. Frank said:
    If printing more printers was possible, wouldn’t it have been the first thing anyone tried to do with one?

    My first wish would be a wish for more wishes.

    Comment by neurolux — August 24, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

  49. Hi Cory, I’ve translated this into Romanian as well. Perhaps some of your readers might find it useful –

    Comment by Alex Brie — August 25, 2008 @ 1:23 am

  50. Something I always disliked about most “cyber-thrillers” — the McGuffin file (software, chip, hardware) is always a non-reproducible Quest Object, that is, the hero can’t just copy it onto some kind of server (good idea), spam USENET with it (better idea), or simply keep the specs and toss the offending atoms (and then get viral with the schematic).

    At last someone’s gotten wise. Great story, Cory.

    Comment by Teleny Parrish — August 25, 2008 @ 8:58 am

  51. I asked my mother to do a translation in Hiligaynon:

    Comment by Paul "The Pageman" Pajo — August 25, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

  52. Some folks have built 3d printers that can reproduce about 60% of their hardware. The rest is off-the-shelf parts.

    The project homepage is here:

    Comment by Mark Wise — October 20, 2008 @ 9:40 am

  53. Has anyone compared this with Nancy Kress’s “Nano Comes to Clifford Falls?” Also a world with printers, only Nancy Kress is scared of them. She’d be one of the people banning printers. Such a good contrast between two very different philosophical and political minds.

    Comment by Joel Walsh — March 26, 2009 @ 10:39 pm

  54. Here’s a Japanese translation by my ITETHIC student Hikaru “Anna” Otsuka.

    Comment by Paul "The Pageman" Pajo — April 1, 2009 @ 3:37 am

  55. Thanks, Paul!

    Comment by Cory Doctorow — April 1, 2009 @ 3:41 am

  56. Very quaint.

    I went ahead and did a Chinese translation too:

    Thanks for such a wonderful story! =)

    (Though I’m sad to say Jason Mayoff’s audio link is now dead =\)

    Comment by Yao — August 17, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

  57. Loved this story – I am busy working on building a reprap for work, to train people in 3D manufacturing (google it), which is literally a printer…a 3D printer which replicates itself, and can make other things too. 100 years from now, and a lappie might even be possible from a home-made unit…who knows ?

    Goop – sounds a bit like acetal, but clearly its nano….this story isn’t that far off in another way, as governments assume a more totalitarian stance as time goes on, and a revolt of this sort is surely in the offing…

    Comment by Martin — October 15, 2009 @ 12:16 am

  58. Just wanted to say that the link to the french translation is broken.

    Comment by Philipe Mongeau — October 19, 2009 @ 6:06 pm

  59. Just after “Japanese fan-translation”, you have a single quote opening the link to, but close with a double-quote; this nukes the rest of your links. Please fix this; it affects links on your stories index so that I had to view source to find links to Human Readable.

    Comment by Jeremy Dunck — December 8, 2009 @ 8:56 am

  60. Thanks to Yao for pointing out the link to my audio version is dead. I’ve uploaded a new version where I hope it will remain forever.

    Cory: Maybe you could update the link? Thanks.

    Comment by Jason Mayoff — January 22, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

  61. Exciting send. Gives thanks for share

    Comment by May Batun — June 13, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

  62. Re “Nano Comes to Clifford Falls”, here’s the first half of it: .

    Comment by Anonymous — August 15, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

  63. New Korean fan-translation link –

    Comment by FoW — May 29, 2013 @ 3:26 am

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