If somebody walked up to me and said, "I have a book I know you're going to love. It's all about economics, labour unions, and the unfair working conditions in developping countries," I might suspect this person doesn't know my reading tastes very well. Such a book might appeal to those with specific interests, but me, well, that's not my thing.
And then this person would hand me For the Win, and I'd be intrigued because it involves gaming, something I'm familiar with. And then I'd read it, and be blown away.
That's Doctorow's genius in this book. He can take all of the above concepts and make them not only interesting, but make them into something that anyone can relate to, especially today's game-happy youth culture. He can take economics and break them down into the simply complex and absurd things that they are, and make it comprehensible. He makes the legnths that some companies go to to control virtual wealth seem like what it is: ridiculous and yet incredibly valuable. This book makes you look at the world, see it in a different light, and get outraged that it isn't better. It's hard-hitting, heartbreaking, and like the games it talks about, endlessly entertaining.
The characters are, above all else, wonderfully human. There are sides of right and wrong, and the lines are clearly drawn, but the people on the side of good are still flawed, violent and angry and they make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes end up fatal. These are people you could pass on the street, could see at school; they don't have to be half a world away in some poorly-ventilated sweatshop, and that just seeks to underscore the message of labour equality that's the main focus of the novel. "There are no Chinese workers. There are just workers."
If you think this books comes across as being a bit preachy, you'd be right. But when your characters are fighting for the right to refuse 22-hour shifts without being beaten, fighting for the right to not be raped in order to hang onto their jobs, I think a little preachiness is allowed.
This book came to me highly recommended, and it leaves my hands in the same state. Go, pick up this book, read it and learn things that you may not have even thought about before. And I dare you to tell me that at the end of it, you didn't feel your moral centre being tugged at, even just a little.
Characterization: 6/10 Is it easy to empathize for the characters in this novel? Yes. Is it easy to understand their individual problems (at least in concept if not in reality)? Sure. Am I able to remember all of the main characters' names a few days after reading the novel? No. But that's fine. The characters serve as vessels to carry the plot along and reveal Doctorow's views on contemporary life and/or issues related to technology. Part of the problem may be that the viewpoint is constantly shifting, but I'm not sure why this might be an issue seeing as I'm used to reading books like ASOIAF. As soon as the book began I was immediately hooked on the problems that Matthew Fong, Mala, and Leonard 'Wei-Dong' Goldberg faced. Each of the characters is flawed in their own way, and since perfect characters annoy me nearly as much as driving in traffic, I'm quite happy with this aspect of the book.
Plotting and Pacing: 3.5/5 and 4/5 Broken into two parts, the plot shows individuals struggling as individual gears in the giant, worldwide mechanism that MMORPGs create. The plots in Doctorow's novels never seem to become as epic or violent as the leadup to the climax leads me to expect, but that is understandable given that these are meant to be YA novels. That's not to say that the plot isn't well crafted, with twists and turns, complications and reversals. It is. But it IS still rather simple in design. Still, I'm always left with the annoying feeling that I want to read more about the characters and what happens next, but I am always left floundering as, as far as I know, Doctorow is sticking to standalone novels (this says something about how good his books are). The plot moves along at breakneck speed, but he is experienced enough to know when to add 'calming' scenes where the reader gets to rest before the onslaught begins anew. Perfect pacing for the YA genre, although sometimes I felt it might have been nice to see the characters taking part in side plots, but whatever. No real complaints here.
Setting: 8/10 I always find it hard to tell whether Doctorow's novels are taking place in a near-future setting or present-day setting (forgive my ignorance). He is an expert when it comes to all media-related technology and the breadth of his knowledge shows in this novel. I'd like to say that his speculative vision of society reveals a great deal about our own world, but I'm not sure the case. This IS our world. But he shows us things that we might never think about or know about otherwise. Even among casual MMORPG players, most probably ignore the economics of the game beyond what they need to play. If you read ANY Doctorow novel, know that you'll learn something knew about the way in which today's society functions, and that's awesome!
Style and Themes: 4/5 and 5/5 As always, Doctorow writes in a way that encourages you to keep reading on and on and on. He writes in clear, simple language that nevertheless is used to explore extremely complex world issues. I would never have known anything about 3d printers if it hadn't been for reading 'The Makers' and I would have thought much less about large scale economic concerns. Using video games as his canvass, he paints a picture of exploitation and corruption. Privacy issues and questions about individual freedoms are at the forefront of any Doctorow novel, and this is no exception. I feel that there is always, despite the problems his characters face, a strong feeling of optimism about what one can accomplish given hard work and the desire to work together with others to make the world a better place.
Total: 30.5/40 As with his other novels, For the Win was great fun to read. Doctorow never wastes words. His novels 1) entertain and 2)teach us something new and 3) make us think about issues of personal privacy and identity (among others). Highly enjoyable, and I think that teens would find these books particularly appealing. So For the Win is another solid addition to any SF fan's bookshelf, and sure to please any younger members of the family as well. Three random things I learned about in this novel were: early con artists, the stock market, basic supply and demand, and consumer confidence.
Rating Scale 01-09: Nigh unreadable 10-19: Get it from the library 20-24: A modest endorsement 25-29: Well-rounded and enjoyable 30-34: Highly recommended 35-40: A must-read!