Sunday, August 22, 2010

For The Win: Candidate for the Leaderboard?

I still haven't read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother--it seems like it's on perma-checkout at my library—but I DID fortuitously run across his next book for young adults: a massive (pun intended) online gaming epic titled For The Win.

I liked a lot of things about this book. If you've ever been involved in any kind of role-playing gaming, online or offline, you'll enjoy the familiar gaming lingo. And if you're familiar with classic video and computer games, you'll get the references (I particularly liked the idea of Mushroom Kingdom, an online game set in Nintendo's Mario universe).

I also liked the premise. The setting is not so far into the future, and online gaming has become a enormous corporate venture comparable in scope with any other major industry, with huge portions of the gaming market owned by Coca-Cola (HA!) and all kinds of unscrupulous underworld types dealing in a thriving not-so-black-market of virtual game gold and valuable in-game items. These "gold farmers" employ young kids in sweatshops all over Asia, purportedly paying them to play games all day, roaming the game universes in gangs, highly trained to win the greatest amount of gold possible from in-game quests, which they then re-sell to the highest bidder. But what happens when those sweatshop workers decide their conditions should be just a bit better, when they decide they have rights just like any other worker? At heart this is a book that drives home the value of unions during a time when they seem to be falling out of favor, and because of that alone, it's critically important.

But. There are a couple of things that kept this book from being as awesome as I feel it could have been. Number one is the fact that it is an extremely convoluted story with at least six major point-of-view characters, plus a few more, constantly shifting from subplot to subplot, with the occasional explanatory authorial-voice section thrown in to boot (which drew me out of the action and sometimes confused me further). If you can't sit down and read this all in one incredible mind-blowing binge, it will probably be hard to follow what's going on. I didn't take more than half a day's break between reading sessions and I found myself getting lost. Characters who were point-of-view characters earlier in the book stopped being POV characters and other characters took over; brand-new ones occasionally popped in and added a new strand to the story; and these were all wonderful and compelling characters, don't get me wrong. All of them were important to the EPIC PLOT OF GARGANTUAN COMPLEXITY. And the tone was good, and the writing was good. But there were too many rapidly shifting storylines for my addled brain to handle, apparently.

A good book, but for me, it falls a little short of being a great book. 

This review was cross-posted on Finding Wonderland.


Lauren said...

I'm keen to read this book - I really enjoyed Little Brother. I could see how the multiple view points could be confusing, though - especially for me!

Unknown said...

There is always something missing, for me, from Doctrow's books. I always like the ideas more than the execution. I am still interested in what he is doing, but I don't rush to read his books anymore. His stuff on boing boing is always more interesting, or at least more pointed, anyway.

Colleen said...

I came to this one with high hopes but couldn't even finish it. Too much of the plot seemed contrived - forced arguments with parents so one kid would end up on the run, ridiculous in an "I saw this coming a zillion miles away" conflict for the teen in India, etc. I think Doctorow is strong on techno-speak, strong on action plot, and extremely weak on characters when he writes YA. I've read his adult titles and they were fine but now FOR THE WIN follows similar complaints I had about LITTLE BROTHER although BROTHER was a stronger book I think (mostly because it was just a tighter story).

All of this, of course, is in my opinion only!! ha!

Ms. Yingling said...

I'll have to take a look at this one. I know Little Brother was more of a high school book, so I'm careful with this author.Thanks for the heads up.