Lizzie's Reviews > For the Win

For the Win by Cory Doctorow
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Jun 23, 2015

liked it
bookshelves: 2010, young-adult, new-and-exciting, best-titles, public-domain-or-creative-commons, sold-to-the-strand
Read from September 05 to 30, 2010

I actually liked this a lot more than I thought I would. I expected it to make me cranky, but I really enjoyed reading it. When I thought hard about it, though, it was missing something... revelatory, I think, that's keeping me from rounding up the rating. In my heart. (And on Goodreads.)

One thing I knew right away, though -- it really is overlong. This story doesn't have to be 500 pages. To its credit, there isn't any thread or character I immediately think of cutting, but there's just a lot. This book is a ton of people. Maybe a trim in each region would have helped. (Yasmin & Ashok in India and Matthew in China are nice but not critical. Conversely, more about Big Sister Nor would have been good.) The funny, exclamation-pointy authorial economics lessons work pretty well, and they lend some seriousness to the plot points, but they do stick out a bit too.

But generally speaking, the deeply international setting is wonderful, and written like the author has been on the ground in those places (not sure?), the slang is cool, there's a lot of day-to-day culture that feels right, and the sociological take is almost never off-key. (There are perhaps a dozen too many "chin-waggles".)

The best parts just stick out really well. Jie and her "Jiandi" folk-hero internet pirate radio show fame in China is amazing. That whole long, long, long scene when she first scoops Lu up and keeps him safe in one of her secret apartments and puts him on the air is probably the coolest part of the book. I also really liked Wei-Dong ("Leonard") and his flight from American boarding school, and his voyage in a teched-out shipping container. He gets the only kid-and-parents family drama in the book and that's done nicely, though feels a bit out of place in this book about teenagers, the internet, and bad business.

In general, this felt like a great book for this author to write because it's awesome to have so much internet in a novel, written by someone who isn't only doing research, who feels it too. (This reminds me of the item on my wish list that is John Green write a book about internet friends.) Pretty much all of this stuff is real, or like what's real, and it's a deep level of detail but written really invitingly. Most of it isn't in my experience, but enough is tangential that it's exciting or funny or touching when it should be. All the hacker-ish stuff is totally thrilling to someone who's never done any of it, I won't lie. You lost me at "proxy", but ok I am totally flipping the page! The level of totally real espionage needed just to stay online, it's great, portrayed really well, and relevant to actual real places.

The only thing is, the thrust of the book, unionizing the gamers and this mission's clashes with authority... I'm not sure any of this was... necessary? I mean it's set up to make a lot of sense, and we can see in the story how these workers are exploited (and just, charming to read this YA book about labor organization you guys). But I think the workers of the world thing connects in only a limited way. Characters die (one of which was surprising, one of which was not). And this ambition kind of hurts its ending -- the scope is so big that waiting for all the laces to tie up is sort of ho-hum, eventually.

Moments I liked:

"'You violate the social contract, the other person doesn't know what to do about it. There's no script for it. There's a moment where time stands still, and in that moment, you can empty out his pockets.'"


"Wei-Dong loved his parents. He wanted their approval. He trusted their judgment. That was why he'd been so freaked out when he discovered that they'd been plotting to send him away. If he hadn't cared about them, none of it would have mattered."

And, a joke worthy of repeating on the internet:

"He could feel everything that was happening in the games he ran. He could tell when there was a run on gold in Svartalfheim Warriors, or when Zombie Mecha's credits took a dive. ... He could tell when there was a traffic jam on the Brooklyn Bridge in Zombie Mecha as too many ronin tried to enter Manhattan to clear out the Flatiron Building and complete the Publishing Quest."
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Travis McCrea I justed wanted to say your phrasing of it not being "revolatory" hit the nail on the head. It kept feeling like it was about to take a turn and the next page would make me cheer or give me a eurika moment... but it just never happened.

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