Book review: For The Win

Cory Doctorow’s For The Win.

Author: Cory Doctorow
Publisher: HarperVoyager

Known for his challenging and thought provoking web-themed novels, Doctorow produces another fantastic book for young adults, which proves both eye-opening and fresh, yet relevant to today’s world.

The novel is set in the ‘not too distant future’ and follows young individuals in various locations across the world playing online videogames. They are not playing for fun, though – this is their trade, the way they make their living. Bosses and global corporations control the industry, and most of these workers suffer abject poverty while others profit from their skills.

For The Win starts following these individuals across the globe as they compete with and against each other to win virtual gold and credits in various computer games. These stories eventually start to merge as a mysterious character called Big Sister Nor contacts each of them. She encourages the individuals to come together to form unions to fight their abusive, power-wielding and ruthless bosses and the companies that own and run the games that their lives centre around.

The ideas have obviously been exceedingly well researched, but Doctorow writes in a very dense, heavy fashion, sometimes also using terminology that anyone but a videogames or computer expert would struggle with. Consequently, these ideas are not immediately accessible. The characters also seem to be a little underdeveloped at points, and breaks throughout the book allow Doctorow to make jumps and assumptions which readers then have to pick up independently as the storyline moves on.

Saying that, persevering is worthwhile. As the reader’s understanding of the subject matter increases as they read (economics, trade unions, trade systems and global and local controls are all discussed at depth), the book becomes more and more absorbing. For The Win is not a light read, and the heavy subject matter and writing style does make the novel seem to drag at first, however pace does pick up in the final third of the book. Due to this pace increase and all the threads that have been running independently starting to merge and tie up, the novel’s flow and pull improves dramatically. It would most likely read better if edited down by about 100 pages, but Doctorow’s skill in developing and discussing his ideas and concepts do make it worth working through.

Ultimately, this has not succeeded where Doctorow’s novel Little Brother did. It does not have the broad appeal that made that novel a standout read, as the subject matter hasn’t been broached in a way that would broaden the appeal to a wider audience. The ideas and concepts are exciting, but his writing style lets these concepts down.

It is a fantastic read for anyone with a knowledge of, or passion for, computer games, but to put it simply, it does not easily transcend into wider readership.

[isbn name=”For The Win”]978-0007352012[/isbn]