For the Win

Warning – this column is more political than my usual pieces. It might infuriate you.

Cory Doctorow's new novel For the Win is a sprawling adventure about finance, gold farmers and solidarity. Taking place all over the world, the book has a diverse group of characters, mostly teens, who are engaged in a struggle for basic rights. They face oppression from employers, governments and corporations; all of which are focused on profit or saving face, to the point where the oppressors will do anything to keep the status quo, even kill. It would be easy for this book to be pedantic or preachy, but despite the enormous amount of information given to the reader Cory stays entertaining.

Much as he did in his previous YA novel Little Brother, Cory presents his data in easily digestible bits. For instance I just saw an article about "Eve teasing" in the paper, but had already learned about this vile practice in For the Win, when one of the young ladies who live in Mumbai is menaced and sexually harassed by a thug. This is just one of the reasons the book gave me a nervous ache in my stomach – the dangers that face these characters are real, serious problems that are taking their toll on teens around the world every day. Even if every character came through the novel unscathed I knew that there are real kids out there in similar circumstances who aren't so lucky.

The characters range from gold farming teens who want a decent wage, and the ability to keep what they earn on their own time, to oppressed young ladies in China, Mumbai and elsewhere, who are preyed upon by the male authority figures in their lives, to executives with giant corporations like Coca-Cola. There are almost too many characters, with my youngest son having trouble keeping track of them all. On the other hand it's an ambitious story and a large cast of characters is necessary to tell it properly. They're all well drawn and made me deeply concerned about their welfare.

The teens try to unionize, which has historically been a dangerous process, often met with violence. For the Win is no different and various factions crack down against the organizers, not hesitating to use even extreme violence against the unarmed protagonists. There are two women who are at the forefront of the movement; Little Sister Nor, an organizer who wants to organize oppressed workers worldwide, and Jiandi, a pirate radio broadcaster in China who gives advice to factory girls who have been taken advantage of by bosses, pyramid schemers and bad boyfriends. These factory girls often have no protection, having left their villages to make money in dangerous working conditions. Jiandi doesn't cut these girls any slack, telling them when they're being dumb and exhorting them to do really difficult things, like leave with no pay when their bosses blackmail them. But she also gives them the support that they need and millions of them tune in to her show. Little Sister Nor started out as a protester and ended up in charge of the entire organization process, at risk from a number of entities that want to cut off the head of the union.

I'm pro union, a member of the Screen Actor's Guild, and I used to be the shop steward in a previous job. I think a decent wage for a decent day's work should be a given and I'm distressed when I see, for instance, servers working for two dollars an hour plus tips that may or may not appear. A book like For the Win just reinforces my belief in the value of unions but I'm curious how union busters would view it, or if they could even finish the book. How do you argue that unions are obsolete when people are dying in unsafe working conditions, being abused by those in power and having their wages stolen?

Things I particularly liked about the book – well rounded characters with character growth, fast paced plotting, interesting storyline, and the games described all sounded like fun. I was also intrigued by the facts that we get, like how many of the world's largest economies are game economies. It's kind of nice to have a fabulous read and some painless learning at the same time.

As with pretty much all of Cory's work you can download the novel for free, in a variety of formats. http://craphound.com/ftw/download/ Of course buying the book is always good but if you want to give back in another way you can buy a copy and donate it to a needy library. There is a list of those who want a copy here: http://craphound.com/ftw/donate/.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is another tweet, which sums up Wizard's World so well I couldn't resist running it. http://twitter.com/dustinharbin/status/16016935694 Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.