'For the Win': Cory Doctorow's novel of the 'Webblies,' gaming renegades
Cory Doctorow's new young-adult novel "For the Win" imagines a near-future in which online gamers fight against shadowy business entities intent on dominating the Web. Doctorow discusses his book Friday, May 14, at Seattle's Sunset Tavern.
Special to The Seattle Times
Cory DoctorowThe author of "For the Win" will discuss his young-adult novel with Stranger book editor Paul Constant at 7 p.m. today, Friday, at the Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave, Seattle. No one under 21 is admitted. Tickets are $5; sponsored by the Stranger and the University Book Store (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).
Plunging headlong into the multilayered worlds of online gaming, Cory Doctorow's latest young-adult novel plays hard and scores major coolness points. Doctorow's best-seller "Little Brother" showed San Francisco youth at odds with Homeland Security over Orwellian surveillance methods; "For the Win" (Tor, 480 pp., $17.99) pits teens in China, India and Southern California against the global corporations that run the computer games they love.
Matthew Fong quits a "gold farm," a sort of online sweatshop, in the industrial South China city of Shenzhen; then he sets up an alternative workplace, despite beatings and threats from his old boss. Matthew and his gold-farming friends make their meager livings by logging on to earn game points and prizes they can sell to hapless beginners or lazy players. Los Angeles high-school student Leonard Goldberg, aka Wei-Dong, stays online late into the night to share their virtual exploits.
Meanwhile, in Mumbai, Mala and her friend Yasmin work long hours under wretched conditions, receiving a pittance from shadowy business entities to fight the game-economy destabilizers to a standstill.
After some colorful encounters hacking away at each other through some fantastic gamescapes peopled with black elves and jabberwocks, these far-flung players find they share common interests. At the urging of a labor organizer in Malaysia, they help form a union modeled after the International Workers of the World. This new union, the International Workers of the World Wide Web (nicknamed "the Webblies" in tribute to the old IWW's sobriquet, "the Wobblies"), can't get itself taken seriously by established trade unions at first. But the IWWWW's reach really is international. The power of its instantaneous virtual networking could prove a match for megacorps with no national allegiances — as one Webbly puts it, "We finally have the same tools as the bosses! ... We can go anywhere just by sitting down at a computer."
When his parents cut him off from his computer, Wei-Dong chooses a more traditional form of travel and becomes a stowaway on a container ship bound for Shenzhen. As he sails across the Pacific, wildcat strikes spread around the Third World. Gold farmers and former game enforcers like Mala are championed by a pirate radio broadcaster and joined by factories full of artists who are beaten and shot by thugs and police.
Judging by some books, novels for young people are expected to present them with a gentled-down, censored version of life. "For the Win" pulls no punches: The stakes are high, and the consequences of losing are grim. Doctorow is adept at contrasting scenes of harmless in-game violence — swarms of massacring knights and zombies, hordes of electric eels — with realistic depictions of heavily armed cops attacking IWWWW members and their supporters using guns and tear gas. Gang bosses break their bones. Private security forces set their homes on fire. Yet the Webblies persevere.
"For the Win" is not a perfect book — merely a glorious one. Its end is open, almost ambiguous. It asks more questions than it answers. It stirs up trouble in its readers' hearts and worries in our minds, presenting problems without providing forever-and-all-time solutions. But it dares much, and daring is the best way humans have of making progress.
Seattle author Nisi Shawl is the winner of the 2009 James Tiptree Jr. Literary Award for her short-story collection "Filter House," published by Seattle-based Aqueduct Press.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.