Compared to the Hugo winning Spin, Wilson's Julian Comstock was somewhat disappointing, but then, so was Axis, the sequel to Spin. For me, where Julian Comstock broke down was in its casting of the 22nd Century as a mirror of the 19th. Maybe it started out as an 'alternate history' novel, where America expanded from equator to pole and coast to coast. There were some mentions of the past technologies and an awareness of the Secular Ancients, but the technology and the setting for Julian Comstock were far too close to the 19th century. History may repeat itself, but not with such fidelity and discarding all the developments that came later.
Other reviews have been more positive, and I didn't dislike it; it's just that Julian Comstock didn't connect with me as much as Spin did.
Makers was really enjoyable. It wasn't quite as galvanizing as Little Brother, which really grabbed me, and almost made me want to go back and be 14 all over again. But Makers has some interesting things to say about the culture of making things. And, just below the surface, Doctorow seems to imagine a world where enormous Cornell box amusement rides are a pinnacle of civilization.
There's a fundamental belief in Disney that Cory has always had that, I have to admit, just doesn't connect with me. I've been to both the Florida and the California Disney attractions (though years and years ago), but what I remember most was how much I liked all the streams and running water through the landscape. The rides were overhyped and underwhelming. Maybe it's because my parents weren't inclined to indulge us with merchandise, but I just don't get excited about Disney. The Mouse always seemed lame and stupid, compared to interesting cartoon characters like the Warner Brothers' crew. And now, with all the copyfights, I'm even less a fan of the rodent king.
So, for me, the Ride that Doctorow envisions in Makers never connects. The magic of the Ride remains suggested and hinted, but never directly explained. That's appropriate, since explaining it would kill it. But it seems to presuppose a vein of experience that I don't share.
One of the characters had this pronouncement, which caught my attention, as you might imagine: "I don't find much attractive about human settlement, though. If it needs to be there, it should just be invisible as possible. We fundamentally live in ugly boxes, and efforts to make them pretty never do anything for me except call attention to how ugly they are. I kinda wish that everything was built to disappear as much as possible so we could concentrate on the loveliness of the world." -- pp 296-7