REVIEW: For the Win by Cory Doctorow

104. For the Win by Cory Doctorow
Publication: Tor Teen (May 11, 2010), ebook, 480pp / ISBN 0765322161
Genre: YA Fiction

Read: June 10-11, 2012
Source: Freebie

Summary from Amazon:

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. (snipped)


For some reason this is billed as a dystopian story; I personally don’t see it, since it reads more like a near-future pseudo-sci-fi story than anything else. I don’t think the sci-fi bits (of which there are few) are what matters, anyway. It’s not a book about future sci-fi stuff, it’s a book about underdogs beating up their bosses and how they went about doing it. Plus, lots of internet stuff.

Cory Doctorow
The author

Like all of Cory Doctorow’s books, this one reads a bit like he googled the heck out of something for a while and then decided to write a book about it. There’s lots of internet things, like I said, and there’s also things about technology, and things about social (media?) movement(s) and more stuff that I’m sure CD’s written about before for blogs and whatnot. The trouble with that stuff is, while it’s interesting, after a while it does feel like you’re reading a book about Cory Doctorow’s Thoughts on Things instead of a coherent story with characters who aren’t Cory Doctorow/his friends doing things that don’t involve Cory Doctorow’s interests in some way. If you like CD and if you like the stuff he likes maybe that isn’t a big problem, but it DOES get tiring after a while.

So that’s the worst thing about For the Win. The best thing about it is its internationalism. I don’t think CD’s done anything with a non-US/UK setting before, nor with so many non-American/British characters. There’s only one American in For the Win, and those he’s a young white dude he’s not even the most important character in the book. So that’s nice.

Unfortunately, the ending was a bit blah. After spending so much time building up to a spectacular ending, it’d be nearly impossible to live up to that potential. But still. There’s a difference between “almost but not quite” and what this ending was, which was “not good.” I won’t say anything more specific for fear of spoilers, but I’m not the only person disappointed with the ending so I suppose I must be right. Right?

Besides my issues with the ending, the fact that it reads like Cory Doctorow’s Personal Files on Stuff, and all the typos in my copy (see below), however, it’s not a terrible book. I kept reading it, y’know, all near-500 pages of it, and it wasn’t just because it was all international-y. The story itself is pretty darned exciting, and the characters were fascinating people, and Cory Doctorow is very good at sticking those two things together in such a way that you keep reading his books even as you’re wondering why the heck you’re still reading a book about internet gold farmers. He is very, very good at doing that.

If you’re already a fan of Cory Doctorow’s books, you’d probably like For the Win because it is a quintessentially CD book. If you’ve never read a CD book before, I’d recommend maybe starting with Little Brother and THEN reading this one. Whatever sort of reader you are, however, you’d no doubt enjoy at least SOME aspect of this book. It’s kind of a mess, but it’s a hot mess.


I liked it!


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Other reviews

things mean a lot: “Another thing it has in common with Little Brother is the fact that it unapologetically and seamlessly works complex theoretical concepts into a story aimed at teenagers. Doctorow clearly doesn’t underestimate his audience’s intelligence, and I love him for it.”

Presenting Lenore: “It was only after I put the book down, after the spell Doctorow had me under was broken, did I start to think back on some of the weaknesses – such as the uneven character development. Doctorow has a tendency to treat his characters like avatars and switch between them depending on who is most convenient to get his point across at that point in the story, without much consideration for their particular character arc. I kept asking myself questions like, what ever happened to x?”

Bookish Blather: “Doctorow clearly knows his stuff, both when it comes to games and to Marxism. Unfortunately, this didn’t always come out in the best way. More than once I had flashbacks to college discussions about the benefits of Marxism and unions and the details of various economic theories as characters sounded just like my professors – or worse, the text books. I was glad some of these topics were being explained, as a lot of readers will lack a working knowledge of at least one subject integral to the story, but the way the information was presented was too heavy-handed.”


Re:typos: here’s weird stuff going on with this particular edition of the book. I don’t know if it’s just my edition or what, but there’s words missing, massively obvious typos, and a consistency problem with one character’s age. It was enough to make reading some parts of the book nearly impossible, unfortunately.

The author’s photo is by Joi Ito on Flickr. It’s not mine! Book cover comes from Amazon. It’s not mine, either.


  1. Publishers today have the annoying tendency to publish books according to the most recent huge fad – many straight-up sci-fi books have been marketed as “dystopian” as a result, despite the fact that a dystopia is a very, very specific type of book…

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