I can be sort of an adoring fan boy when I let myself be. I am such a fan boy about Cory Doctorow.
I give his YA tech-fest book For The Win an unequivocal (not equivocating) five stars. Other readers have quibbled with some of the book's elements, but these are quibbles as far as I am concerned and a matter of taste not an empirical condemnation of Doctorow's lack of skill or talent. As a writer, thinker, and Net presence, Doctorow is an excellent human being, and For the Win is a very enjoyable and edifying book.
I first discovered Cory a bit late in the game. As a regular reader of Locus magazine, he hit my radar when his 2008 novel Little Brother was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. On either the strength of advertisements or these nominations, I bought it, read it, and loved it. Since then, I have read the sequel Homeland as well as Makers, a book about 3D printing, squatter settlements, and DisneyWorld going Goth. I have included the image of a book review by a whip smart high school student, Rebecca Nguyen, farther below, which is something I was planning to integrate into the T-short blog when Cory posted the review earlier this year. I have plans to read several of Cory's other books. For the Win sat in my too read stack since 2013 when I received it as a gift for my birthday. It was worth the wait.
One of the things that makes Cory Doctorow so special is that he gives his books away for free via his Internet site, CRAPHOUND.
For instance, here's the SITE FOR FOR THE WIN:
DOWNLOAD FOR THE WIN
Though I could get the books for free, I own the physical copies of all of Doctorow's novels, and I choose to buy the DRM-free audio books, which are quite well done.
Best said by a reviewer on AMAZON: "First, thanks are due to the author for his continued decision to release his works free on the Internet. Traditional media would believe it counter-intuitive: why would consumers pay for something free? Counter-intuitive or not, it works: it reduces the barrier to entry for a consumer. I first got my taste for Doctorow's writing with a free download, but it's one I enjoyed enough that his books -- in traditional form -- reside on my bookshelves and have survived several culls of my collection. Something to consider, publishers."
Cory Doctorow also hosts a news page for each of his books on his site. For instance, here's the one for FTW: FOR THE WIN NEWS.
Who is Cory Doctorow?
Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger -- the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of young adult novels like HOMELAND, PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER and novels for adults like RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and MAKERS. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London (Craphound.com/bio).
Amazon reviews for Doctorow's For the Win are mostly positive, VERY positive. As of this writing, I spy 23 five star reviews and others in these numbers: 4 star , 3 star , 2 star , 1 star .
Some may argue (and some do on Amazon) that Doctorow does too much proselytizing, arguing that he shifts the prose into lessons about economics too much. It's true. There are several lessons about economics, politics, activism, and worker rights in the book. There's a spirit of true, worker-driven communism in the book.
But this kind of almost pedagogical content is to be expected. First of all, the target audience is YA, in which switching into a teaching mode is more defensible because it's meant to teach young people not jaded, stick-in-the-mud adults who lack skills in tolerance late alone acceptance. Second, like in his other books, Doctorow is interested in teaching and even preaching the gospel of some new (or old and revised) approach to economies, governing, or rights-controlling and privacy. Given his work outside writing, such as with the EFF and the Open Rights Group, this kind of thing should come as no surprise. It's sort of the buy-in acceptance part of reading a Doctorow book: the good story comes at the price of several lessons in whatever Doctorow has studied while writing the book and wants to share/promote. And as long as it works, remains entertaining, then it hardly ruins the book or experience of reading the book. I was riveted to the audio of FOR THE WIN, even figuring out how to listen while I was mowing the lawn (over the ear noise canceling headphones and just the right volume on the MP3 player).
So, as I scroll through the AMAZON reviews, I can dismiss those who want to dump the rating for Doctorow being "too preachy and heavy handed." That's the price of admission, and for the readers who did not realize this or cannot accept, too bad, too sad, so shut up now.
However, Doctorow manages to integrate the lessons in such a way that is far from heavy-handed and works seamlessly with the story. Many of the scenes of For the Win play out as narrative showing the economics or the political activism in ACTION, which are the strengths not the weaknesses of his novels.
The characters are vibrant. The story is not sacrificed to the lessons; if anything, they help with the acceleration of the plot, and yet there's plenty of story, plenty of suspense, plenty to keep the reader involved and engaged.
For the Win is about new social organizations and economies born out of games set in a near future environment. It's best to share the synopsis Cory has posted to his own site.
In the virtual future, you must organize to survive.
At any hour of the day or night, millions of people around the globe are engrossed in multiplayer online games, questing and battling to win virtual “gold,” jewels, and precious artifacts. Meanwhile, others seek to exploit this vast shadow economy, running electronic sweatshops in the world’s poorest countries, where countless “gold farmers,” bound to their work by abusive contracts and physical threats, harvest virtual treasure for their employers to sell to First World gamers who are willing to spend real money to skip straight to higher-level gameplay.
Mala is a brilliant 15-year-old from rural India whose leadership skills in virtual combat have earned her the title of “General Robotwalla.” In Shenzen, heart of China’s industrial boom, Matthew is defying his former bosses to build his own successful gold-farming team. Leonard, who calls himself Wei-Dong, lives in Southern California, but spends his nights fighting virtual battles alongside his buddies in Asia, a world away. All of these young people, and more, will become entangled with the mysterious young woman called Big Sister Nor, who will use her experience, her knowledge of history, and her connections with real-world organizers to build them into a movement that can challenge the status quo.
The ruthless forces arrayed against them are willing to use any means to protect their power—including blackmail, extortion, infiltration, violence, and even murder. To survive, Big Sister’s people must out-think the system. This will lead them to devise a plan to crash the economy of every virtual world at once—a Ponzi scheme combined with a brilliant hack that ends up being the biggest, funnest game of all.
Imbued with the same lively, subversive spirit and thrilling storytelling that made LITTLE BROTHER an international sensation, FOR THE WIN is a prophetic and inspiring call-to-arms for a new generation.
Does that sound good?
It is good. VERY GOOD.
As for a book like Makers, which I also loved, here's another review.
This review may be more visible at CRAPHOUND.
And, oddly, this is not a blog entry that reviews either Makers or Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, but I like art work.