I recently finished reading Cory Doctorow’s For the Win.
Among its strong points are the quick and vibrant character-building (who can’t like a Jewish American teenager who adopts his online persona Wei Dong, or a tough preteen girl from a proto-industrial slum near Mumbai who adopts the online-gaming moniker “General Robotwalla”?), including some quite late in the book who just take off (the autistic gamer-mathematician cum Coke executive, the sexy/subversive Chinese talk-radio host) and like fourth members of a relay squad, finish the race at full steam.
For the Win is also relentlessly political. Few of the white-hats are right more than a little of the time, and some of the black-hats change headwear at some point, in a quiet corner of the stage. I liked that about the book. The politics were pretty unequivocal, and much to my liking: anti-authoritarian, collectivist, gradualist. The characters navigated their worlds as explorers, sometimes bold and reckless, sometimes cowed and cautious, from world-changing/life-or-death decisions to choosing the right words for talking to a loved one.
The action swirls around the online gaming industry, and it is presented very much as an industry. For outsiders, the initialism MMORPG, for Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, is a more accurate term than online game, which could be pinochle or chess or Global Thermonuclear War. It gets to be an industry because, in order to seduce more players to join and spend real cash, the game companies entice them with prizes. Players exchange prizes for in-game currency. They also exchange prizes AND in-game-currency for IRL (In Real Life) currencies. On exchanges, with millions of IRL-rupees and drachmas and dollars traded from IRL hand to IRL hand.
So what happens when a lot of money changes hands quickly? Organized crime/industry. China and India are (in the story and, presumably, IRL, but that’s one of the things I like about the book – I can’t quite tell where fantasy and reality diverge) major centers of industrial-scale “gold-farming.” The MMORPG game worlds spawned a class of players who tried to trade in-game rewards for enough money to live by, or even get rich by. These were the original gold farmers. But where there’s money, there are bosses, and the bosses pounced on the gamers in internet cafes all over the world, recruiting/intimidating them to join their companies, with conditions closely mirroring those of sweatshop laborers in the same countries.
This is one of the main connections of the book, and it’s an interesting one. I have never been to an internet café, and aside from a text-only MMORPG in the mid-90s and a very short dalliance with Apocalypse Online, I am not an online gamer. I don’t know if this is true, but it reads really well, and that’s the point. That, and the fact that Doctorow weaves in cogent economic and cultural descriptions and explanations, as well as dialog in a few scenes (in the film studio trailer in Mumbai, for one) which make the case for a strong parallel.
This is well worth reading, and you can legally own it for free. You can also buy a copy. Doctorow, who as far as I know makes a living from selling the books that he writes, also gives all of them away for free. He advocates permanent, flexible ownership of the electronic files by whoever wants them, free of charge. He argues that piracy is less of a threat to him than obscurity. And he makes the cogent point that, for a few bucks, people who enjoy his books can have nice printed copies of them, if they so choose. Should we check back in a few years to see how this plan is working for him? In the meantime, he has half a dozen books out, and based on the strength of this one, I’m setting aside a few bucks for deployment in the battle against Cory Doctorow’s obscurity.
My cute cat died at the beginning of the year. Sophy was a flame-point Siamese, with a nice, round head (none of those anteater-snout Siamese for us!), a loving felinality (she groomed everyone and everything), and pale blue eyes. She was 11, and died of kidney failure. I’ve let the book reviews slide for a bit, even though I’ve still been reading.
Also read recently:
- The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex: an audaciously funny and imaginative book that made me laugh out loud so much my older son stole it from me and read it, laughing out loud quite a bit. Then I got sidetracked, and only got around to reading it now. I laughed out loud some more. The Boov am your friends!
- Among the Brave, by Margaret Peterson Haddix: grim and getting grimmer… the main recommendations for this are that it gets the narrative back to an already-introduced character, moves the plot along toward final conflict, and more finely describes the world changes. Maybe the next and final volume of the series will be uplifting.
- “Pip and the Fairies,” by Theodora Goss: a cleverly planned and neatly executed fantasy in the Wildside Press collection, Fantasy: the Best of the Year 2006.
- “Three Urban Folk Tales,” by Eric Schaller, in the same collection: classical ideas in a surprising structure
- Dorothy Hodgkin: a life, by Georgina Ferry: I hate books with titles like this, or rather, the titles themselves. This is turning out to be a surprisingly good read. I am wrestling with the sense that young Dorothy Crowfoot is leaping from log to log as a logjam sprints through some rapids on the way to a huge waterfall. How the heck did she get anything done? Makes my troubles seem small, but there’s nothing condescending to the reader or hagiographical toward the subject in Ferry’s narrative so far. If nonfiction were generally this good, I might never have discovered Doctorow.
- General Chemistry, by Linus Pauling: yes, Hodgkin was a chemist, and no, that really has nothing to do with why I’m reading both now. I actually wanted to read about Hodgkin for awhile, and I never understood chemistry, so when I found Pauling’s book at the store (Border’s in Emeryville), and found it so well organized and easy to read, I snapped it up. Not a cover-to-cover experience.
For work, I’ve been repeatedly reading, analyzing, and revising short books for struggling older readers. Our leveling process is regular, research-based, and made of familiar components, so our new and revised books will useful to reading teachers. The process also tires me out. My appetite for reading and writing away from work has diminished a little.