Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Review: For the Win by Cory Doctorow

At some point in the (near?) future, MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) run some of the world’s biggest economies. There are millions who play for fun, and then there are the millions of “gold farmers” in poor countries who play for prestige items for their bosses to sell to the highest bidder. A diverse group of young people from all over the world get caught up in a movement that dares to challenge the status quo, trying to form a workers union across borders while staying at least one step ahead of the muscle (and police) hired by the big bosses and the gamerunners.


Sounds complicated doesn’t it? Aside from this being pitched to me as dystopia (which, honestly, doesn’t actually describe it very well) and being written by Cory Doctorow whose last book LITTLE BROTHER kept me up all night reading, I was skeptical. I have never been the least bit interested in gaming (unless you count a tetris addiction and a brief infatuation with The Legend of Zelda in the early 90s), and FOR THE WIN is long – around 500 pages.

But, while I was reading this, I LOVED every second of it. Doctorow concocts a sprawling narrative following a bunch of different characters (mostly gamers), and some of the time, the storytelling takes a back seat to pages of Doctorow telling you stuff about economic theory, finance, labor unions and confidence scams. While I can imagine this won’t interest everyone, I found it freakishly fascinating (but then, I’ve always had a thing for applied economics).

Doctorow also writes some very compelling scenes, like when Wei-Dong (real name Leonard) smuggles himself and a pimped out shipping container from LA to China or when Lu escapes a police raid into the arms of an underground broadcasting star who features him on her show. I even enjoyed the scenes “in world”, when the characters were on quests to farm gold, even though logically I should probably hate that sort of thing.

And he’s funny! He writes passages like this:

The rest of the time, Connor’s job was to work on his Fingerspitzengefuhl. That was a useful word. It was a German word, of course. The Germans had words for everything, created by the simple expedient of bashing as many smaller words as you needed together until you got one monster mouth-murderer like Fingerspitzengefuhl that exactly and precisely conveyed something no other language could even get close to.” p 234
It was only after I put the book down, after the spell Doctorow had me under was broken, did I start to think back on some of the weaknesses – such as the uneven character development. Doctorow has a tendency to treat his characters like avatars and switch between them depending on who is most convenient to get his point across at that point in the story, without much consideration for their particular character arc. I kept asking myself questions like, what ever happened to x?

My rating? Certainly not for everyone, but I’ll give it 4 Zombie Chickens.


Find out more, and even download your own free copy (really, Doctorow WANTS you to), at the author’s website.

See index of all dystopian reviews on Presenting Lenore

15 comments:

Nymeth said...

Eep - I'd almost forgotten I have a copy of this that needs to get read before I move away. I'm glad to hear it's good! I loved Little Brother and so I have high hopes for this as well.

Lawral the Librarian said...

I think what Doctorow does the best is make things that you would normally not be interested in and/or know anything about (MORPGs, LARPing, encryption) interesting. He also manages to explain things in a way that makes sense at the most basic level. And he's pretty hilarious.

I have a copy of this languishing in my TBR pile. Thanks for reminding me of it!

Liviania said...

I love Doctorow. He always reminds me that good hard SF teaches you something.

bermudaonion said...

I got this one at BEA and I was thinking Vance might like it. You've made me think I might like it too.

Staci said...

I got this one a while back for Marc and he really enjoyed it. Especially because he loved Little Brother so much. I thought it would appeal to the gamer side of him which it did.

S. Krishna said...

I picked this up at BEA and definitely want to read it. Thanks for the review!

SWK said...

I enjoyed this book, too, though occasionally found it a bit heavy on the economic theory. Still, I was swept up into the big, sweeping, dramatic techno-epic. My teenage son, who loved LITTLE BROTHER, also enjoyed this book.

Ladytink_534 said...

I've never really been that fond of gaming either and never multi-player online games though my husband seems to really like some of them. Thankfully he never got hooked on Warcraft though!

Sandy Nawrot said...

My son is an intense and fairly skilled gamer, so I could completely see him DOING something like this in the future. In fact, even though he is a reluctant reader, he might even pick this up. There is something to be said for the fact that you didn't realize the book's flaws until after you'd broken free of its spell!

dining room tables said...

I have been planning to buy that book because my friend has it. And he is telling me that it is an exciting book. I am looking for this review about that book. Now I am decided that I am going to buy it. The review is so great.

Zibilee said...

Everyone in my family loved Little Brother, and I am excited to see that Doctorow has another book out! I would love to read this, but I actually think it would be the perfect read for my son, who considers himself a serious gamer. Thanks for this really comprehensive review, Lenore! This book will be purchased this week!

Alyce said...

I won this one in a contest and am exciting about reading it sometime soon. I'm glad you liked it even with the weaknesses you discussed.

Krista/Tower of Books said...

Hmm...Personally I don't think I would like this, but it's always a good thing when books surprise you.

Bookgeek said...

I loved this book - it's risky, brave, determined, passionate, provocative. And yet, when finished I realized that he needed a better edit. Often two characters would sit down and discuss economic theory - and completely stopped the narrative flow. It's not as good a book as Little Brother, but it's so worth reading

celi.a said...

I'm not as much of a technophile as I'd like to be, but I surprised myself by loving Doctorow's Little Brother, so I'm sure I'll love this new one. He's a master at keeping the tension and stakes high, I think. Lovely review, by the way. *grin*