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For the Win: A Novel Paperback – September 4, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Grade 10 Up Wei-dong, known to his Orange County family as Leonard, is addicted to guild game play with his Chinese colleagues. Mala and Yasmin, brilliant strategists, are gaming from an Internet cafe in the poor streets of Dharavi. Matthew and Lu are trying to establish their own freelance gold-farming operation in the rough city of Shenzhen. Guided from Singapore by the secretive Big Sister Nor, these young people are slowly coming together and forming a union to demand basic working conditions and protection from organized crime rackets. In order to prove their strength, these Webblies take over the three games owned by the Coca-Cola Company. Battling for real-world rights in a virtual environment, they must overcome corrupt cops, determined sys ops, and social indifference to beat the game. Doctorow is continually at the leading edge of electronic issues, rallying supporters to the causes of intellectual freedom, privacy, and social justice. Readers will appreciate the game descriptions, but will have a harder time relating the gold-farming issues back to their own play. Lengthy asides detail the workings of the game economies, but they aren't as skillfully incorporated as in Little Brother (Tor, 2008). The characters are well formed, but at times it is difficult to keep their interactions in order. Leonard's internal rant with his father is preachy and somewhat tenuous as a justification for the benefits of social gaming. On the other hand, Yasmin's emotional turmoil and attempt to reconcile her upbringing with her current circumstances is honest and rewarding. Full of action and information, this is a solid, if occasionally soapbox-worthy, narrative. Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Doctorow is indispensable. It’s hard to imagine any other author taking on youth and technology with such passion, intelligence, and understanding. Although perhaps less urgent than Little Brother (2008), this effort is superior in every other aspect: scope, plot, character, and style. Set in the near future and in locations across the globe (though primarily China and India), the story involves a sweeping cast of characters making a living—if you want to call brutal conditions and pitiful wages a “living”—in such virtual-game worlds as Svartalfheim Warriors and Zombie Mecha. Many of them, like 15-year-old Mala (known by her troops as “General Robotwalla”), endure physical threats from their bosses to farm virtual gold, which is then sold to rich First World gamers. Then these brilliant teens are brought together by the mysterious Big Sister Nor, who has a plan to unionize and bring these virtual worlds—and real-world sweatshops, too—to a screeching halt. Once again Doctorow has taken denigrated youth behavior (this time, gaming) and recast it into something heroic. He can’t resist the occasional lecture—sometimes breaking away from the plot to do so—but thankfully his lessons are riveting. With it’s eye-opening humanity and revolutionary zeal, this ambitious epic is well worth the considerable challenge. Grades 10-12. --Daniel Kraus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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What holds it together is a mountain of research that comes through in the author’s respectable command of a wealth of complex topics. He explored exotic locales, economic theory, gaming culture and business management without losing me. A laudable effort considering that I am an MBA that has worked in the gaming industry for 10 years. I assume that labor economists would be less kind because that seems like the weakest link in the book. It also seems odd to go so deep into labor economics without bringing in more politics.
In a way this book shares a lot in common with the gaming industry. Games are so complex and have become so big that they all have flaws. Winning in the market comes down to two things. Is it interesting enough to stand out from the crowd and are the mistakes/flaws small enough to now take away from the overall experience. Taking the comparison the the extreme I would say For the Win is Assassin’s Creed.
Recommended to Doctorow fans, Scalzi fans, lovers of near-future science fiction, and any gamers that have ever called in "sick" because they wanted to finish Just One More Quest.
Maybe I should say I love it!
Why write a Novel of Ideas when you could just write nonfiction essays, one commenter said. The reason is that we identify with the characters when written as fiction and the ideas permeate us more fully.
The best kind of novel would have the ideas, and the characters would also develop, like H.G. Wells Ann Veronica, or Jack Vance's character Wayness Tamm in the Araminta Station trilogy. But among the fifty-ish novels each of those two authors gave us, only one or two stand out as having the Character AND the Idea. Perhaps it is difficult to do both, and rare. Cory Doctorow gave us only the Idea, not the Character, in For the Win.
I thoroughly enjoyed For the Win. The idea kept me reading late into the night. I'd like to give the rest of this review to the Idea that Doctorow gave us in this book. The idea is compassion. It is not just a political stance, which could easily be catagorized as Liberal, with the value of Unions for exploited workers. But there are many scenes beginning about a third of the way through the book, and continuing through the end, that give an unconditionally compassionate perspective. For example, on p 179, the enlightened character Ashok says:
"You can talk all you want about 'Indian workers,' but until you find solidarity with all workers, you'll never be able to protect your precious Indian workers."
This is a perspective that does not (yet) belong to the Left or to the Right. What I want, I wish for others, even my competitors in other counteries, is a version of the Golden Rule, that has been around since Confucious and Leviticus and later Jesus. This is the Idea in For the Win. And I feel this Idea alone is worth five stars, and worth encouraging many people to read.
I am forty eight, and I bought a copy for my 22 year old daughter. She has struggled with optimism about the direction the world is going. If more people would read books like this, perhaps the enthusiasm of human solidarity would spread. That is the purpose of a Novel of Ideas. And if the people of the Writer's generation dismiss the Idea as something that will never happen, perhaps it will be the following generation, or 2000 years later that people still reading will say, "you know, I think he was right and let's do this Idea now."
For these reasons I feel this novel fits into the category of Wells' "Novel of Ideas," and this is an Idea worth supporting.