Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Cory Doctorow

Since Cory Doctorow will be one of our featured authors at Book Café this summer (on July 11), I decided to pick something to read from his back list. We have read his classic teen novel, Little Brother, for two of our teen book clubs, and I enjoyed that depiction of teens using game tech to resist an oppressive government entity, but I must admit that although I have bought them for the library, I haven't kept up with all his other writings. After reading some of the descriptions from the back list, I decided that his book For the Win sounded intriguing, and checked it out for the weekend.

This book is a little hard to explain. It's basically about teenagers who work online inside video games to make money in various ways (both legal and illegal) for their employers. These game economies are super profitable for those who run them, but the teenagers are being paid a pittance, working in poor conditions, to do all the work. So someone decides it's about time to unionize them.

Many people who read this book would ask, "How can a book that spends about a third of its pages on an in-depth analysis of economic principles, social and moral ideals, and business paradigms be aimed at teenagers?"

Those people would be right...and yet, I can think of some teens who would be bowled over by this book. It is, indeed, something of a treatise on the unionization process of workers...but when those workers are multinational and multicultural (most of the action takes place in China and India, but some in America) and are all within the confines of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) that cross all borders, that changes things up!

The strongest thing this book has going for it is its characters. From Leonard, a Jewish kid living in the OC in the shadow of Disneyland, who calls himself "Wei-dong" online and pals around with a bunch of players in China, to Mala, otherwise known as General Robotwallah, who leads a crew of dedicated players in rural India, to Matthew, who is trying to extricate himself from a cruel boss in Shenzhen to form his own gold farming team, to Jie, a savvy online broadcaster with an essential link to the factory girls of Singapore, all are vital, interesting, distinct players in this massively complicated plot to bring down the games unless their unionization movement for improved conditions and pay is acknowledged and empowered. While Doctorow is occasionally didactic, he uses the Socratic method (one character is an expert and is bringing the other character up to speed by answering his or her questions) to conduct his "information dumps," and it mostly works well and holds your interest.

I learned a lot--about economics, about unions, about games. (This guy is brilliant--can't wait to meet him.) But mostly I rooted for these sometimes heroic underdogs, up against a powerful economy they hoped to make into something that brings everyone together for mutual benefit instead of continuing to separate them into the vastly richer and the more desperately poorer. It particularly resonated with current events that seem determined to send us backwards in terms of workers' rights and the economic divide in our own country. It took me a while to make my way through this book, but what a rush it gives you in the end!

Teens should definitely put Book Café with Cory Doctorow on their summer calendars--July 11 is the date! But if you are an adult fan who is dismayed to know that Book Café is for teens in grades 7-12 only, you will be happy to know that Cory will be making an appearance during August at an author event featuring his new book, to which you will be welcome! Stay tuned...

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