For The Win is the fourth Doctorow book that I’ve read and loved.
Cory Doctorow tends to weave modern social issues into his novels. While Pirate Cinema was primarily about Intellectual Property and copyright, and Little Brother/Homeland were primarily about personal privacy, security and rights, For The Win takes a more ambitious turn, looking at world economics and labour practices. As a YA novel, it is a bit more technical and preachy than the first two I mentioned, and I think would be more appealing to a better or more mature reader. Some of the social comment takes the form of short dissertations that go on for a page or two. However, they are mixed in with a fast paced story that grabs and holds your attention.
The story takes place in several locations in SE Asia, where gamers are working for bosses to acquire gold and other resources in on line games so that they can be sold at a profit. Doctorow’s depiction of life and working conditions for young people in these countries is one of the best parts of the novel, showing how completely different their lives are from typical western youth. It is a sweatshop of gaming. It is quite enlightening and shocking. The on line game metaphor is used as a vehicle to explain economic principles and also drifts into ideas such as pyramid schemes, hostile takeovers and labour rights. It’s actually a metaphor within a metaphor, on one hand using on line gaming as a metaphor for the real world, and also using labour conditions in Asia as a metaphor for labour conditions in the West. I think it would be fair to say that it has a pronounced Left Wing slant, but not obnoxiously so. As I said, perhaps this is more for a relatively mature young reader, but most of the time it works and the lessons don’t detract from the story. The plot is intense and far from sugar coated.
This would be one of those books that would be ideal for a parent and child to read together as there is lots of grist for lively discussion.
I would give this book a B++. Maybe an A-.