Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FTW

I believe Cory Doctorow when he tells me that some online games have a larger economy than most of the world's nations. That there are thousands of young men (mostly) toiling away in internet cafes in China, India, Southeast Asia and Mexico "mining" game gold that some petty tyrant one step up the economic ladder from the miners will sell for real money to bored and unskilled first-world gamers who can't be bothered to earn the gold themselves. And that the real winners in this economy are the (mostly Western) corporate owners of these games who don't really care that young men are being exploited in an almost sweatshop environment.

This is mildly interesting to me. In For the Win (The unreadable cover tagline is "In the virtual future, you've got to organize to survive."), the author of Little Brother once again imagines a very-near future where technology and human rights collide. And while it has moments of vivid action and real tension, like Little Brother, Doctorow bogs us down with the details. It's like he's done all this research and by god, he's going to tell us absolutely everything he's learned. This generally does not make for good fiction. It makes it difficult for me to invest in the characters and care about their fates.

I'll try to summarize. Young online game gold miners -- located in south China and in the slummy exurbs of Mumbai (?) -- playing in the delicious-sounding worlds of Svartalfheim Warriors and Zombie Mecha, organize into the Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web (IWWWW) [or the Webblies] -- led by the union-savvy, Singapore-based Big Sister Nor and her two assistants Justbob and the Mighty Krang. Like their predecessor, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Webblies plan to strike for better pay and working conditions. A young Californian gamer, Leonard Goldberg -- who goes by Wei-Dong in solidarity with his game-playing brothers in China -- finds himself the heir to a worldwide shipping fortune when his father suddenly dies. He sneaks aboard one of his container ships headed for China. After an unnerving voyage, Wei-Dong arrives and meets up with a pirate radio star and champion of Chinese factory girls named Jie. Through Big Sister Nor, Wei-Dong and Jie -- along with two female gamers living in India -- collaborate to bring the games to an economic halt, with reverberations felt in the corporate headquarters of Coca-Cola.

George Newbern (new to me) reads this lengthy (16+ hours) novel. While he has a pleasant speaking voice, frankly I had trouble staying engaged. Newbern tends to read every sentence the same way, which can get quite lulling. This reading style proves particularly challenging during what I'll call the "seminar" sections of the book. I just couldn't be bothered paying attention to all those details, read in a voice that really isn't very different than the voice that's telling me the occasionally exciting story.

The narrator chooses not to voice the story's many characters, although following dialog is not very difficult. Every once in a while he adds a tinge of accent to a character -- most successfully with the Indian characters, but he isn't terribly consistent. I think that Newbern has a difficult job to do though, character-wise. All the cleverly named people in this novel -- add General Robotwalla and Connor Prikkel to the mix -- aren't really people, of course. They are political positions, not much different than those depicted in the notable stage play The Cradle Will Rock (Larry Foreman, Mr. Mister, etc.).

At the same time, I do admire Doctorow's passion for fairness and commitment to ideas. And I like the fact that he speaks honestly to teenagers -- addressing their lives in their language. There's a consistent demand for his books at my library; somebody's reading them!

In the quibble department: Many, far too many, of Doctorow's characters engage in (what I am assuming is) the physical activity of waggling their chin. What is this? How do you do it? Why? In a (way) earlier post, I complained about a novel with too many waggling eyebrows. But at least I understand how one does waggle one's eyebrows. The chin on the other hand ...

Thanks to Urban Dictionary for the explanation of the title (for we non-gamers): "An enthusiastic emphasis to the end of a comment, message, or post." The Wiktionary also contributes: "'FTW' is mostly used to indicate a contribution or action taken that one is proud of, even facetiously."

For the Win by Cory Doctorow
Narrated by George Newbern
Listening Library, 2010. 16:31 (unabridged)

ftw

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