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For the Win
Cory Doctorow
Tor, 480 pages

For the Win
Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow was born in Toronto, in 1971. He has sold fiction since the age of 17. His story, "Craphound," was published in Science Fiction Age. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was his first novel.

Cory Doctorow Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: For the Win
SF Site Review: Makers
SF Site Review: Makers
SF Site Review: Little Brother
SF Site Review: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
SF Site Review: Eastern Standard Tribe
SF Site Review: A Place So Foreign
SF Site Review: Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jason Erik Lundberg

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Cory Doctorow refers to his near-future novels (such as Eastern Standard Tribe, Little Brother, and Makers) as "radical presentism." In other words, the premise relies on something going on in the real world right now, but that few people might know about, and so when it is presented in Doctorow's fiction, it shines with the sheen of speculative prediction. This makes it seem as if he is a guru of trendspotting, but what it really means is that he is very good at observing and then explaining the complex in simple terms. Doctorow has turned his keen eye this time to the subject of economics, gold-farming, and Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) in For the Win.

For the Win is told as a narrative tapestry, switching points of view between key characters to present a global tale of workers' rights and economic gamesmanship. Matthew Fong ("Boss Fong") and Zha Yue Lu ("Tank") work as gold-farmers in Shenzhen mining the in-game gold to sell to inexperienced or lazy Westerners (who want to quickly level up their characters in Svartalfheim Warriors), and try to avoid the brutal enforcement of their former boss's goons in-real-life (IRL). Leonard Goldberg ("Wei-Dong") is a teenager from Los Angeles who runs with Matthew and Lu online, and gets in trouble with his shipping magnate father when his gaming starts to interfere with his grades. Mala ("General Robotwallah") and her XO Yasmin work for Mr. Banerjee in Dharavi, a slum town on the outskirts of Mumbai, battling with their army of Indian adolescents against gold-farmers in Zombie Mecha. Big Sister Nor and her lieutenants, The Mighty Krang and Justbob, operate out of the Geylang district in Singapore, organizing the labor of 20,000 in-game workers and forming the world's first virtual union: The Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web, aka The IWWWW, aka The Webblies. Jie ("Jiandi") runs a pirate internet radio show offering advice and solidarity for China's female factory workers, and stays just a few steps ahead of the zengfu, the corrupt and ruthless police force. Connor Prikkel is an American economics wunderkind and the chief runner of five of Coca-Cola's most popular MMORPGs, hunting down gold-farmers and banishing them without remorse.

With such a large cast of characters and such an intricate plot, this novel could have quickly become a complicated mess, but each sections flows from one to the next, and the narratives nicely mesh with one another, forming a whole that spans the globe (though the action is mostly constrained to the US, China, and India, and by no accident; these three nations are soon to be the next superpowers in the coming decades).

As with Doctorow's previous YA offering, Little Brother, For the Win occasionally comes to a complete halt to provide a didactic lesson on economics, either between the novel's characters or directly from the author to the reader; although it must be said that these interruptions come far less than the book's predecessor, lessening the feel of polemic and focusing more on the workers' revolution in the narrative itself. There are also a few tiny incorrect details with regards to Singapore, but anyone other than a resident will just gloss right over them.

"For the Win" (FTW) is an expression that originated in internet slang and in online games to express enthusiasm for something, usually an accomplishment, but sometimes just for something cool. However, in Doctorow's novel, the expression takes on added depth, as motivation for all his characters' actions. Whether it be in the in-game battles between gold-farmers and their enemies, or in the efforts to unionize online workers all over the world, or in the tactics taken to suppress this organization, or in the efforts to take down the runners of the games themselves, "For the Win" becomes a battle cry of solidarity in the hostile game of life in which all of the players are involved.

For the Win is a big ambitious novel that delivers on its promise: an action-packed (pun intended) suspenseful narrative and a well-explained lesson in both in-game and IRL economics and labor. Doctorow's writing has never been more passionate and concise, nor his intellectual abilities more fully on display.

Copyright © 2010 Jason Erik Lundberg

Jason Erik Lundberg is a writer of fantastical fiction, and an American expatriate living in Singapore. His work has appeared (or will soon) in over forty venues in five countries. He runs Two Cranes Press with Janet Chui. Visit his web site.


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