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FOR THE WIN – the buck-oh-five review

August 15, 2011 – 8:32 am

Cory Doctorow’s novel FOR THE WIN is a nail-biter that twists thrilling, fast-paced story-lines together into something greater than its parts. I downloaded it for free from the author’s website (see below) and then I bought two copies from Powell’s. The story kicks ass and the author’s creative approach to economics and ownership impressed me, so I’m donating a copy of this book to one school in Kodiak, Alaska, and one in Portland, Oregon.

FOR THE WIN is a story about growing up, sticking it to The Man, creative new economies, and why Unions matter. It’s an adventure in economics. It’s about gamers and chatrooms and neighborhoods and friends and bosses who are dicks–and I mean beat-you-to-death-because-in-the-big-scheme-of-things-you’re-an-economic-prisoner-a-slave-so-you-better-shut-it-or-else. It left me feeling like I’d accidentally learned something.

I also felt like I’d visited the hot and smelly slums of India and the dehumanizingly bland factory-lands in China as well as the World-of-Warcraft-style Mushroom Kingdom. These kids love playing their games and it’s great to go along with them as their hobby becomes business and business becomes a question of how to organize in the real world. Doctorow’s novel explores what it means to be free in a capitalist world.

Of course, if we’ve learned anything from Team America: World Police, it’s that Freedom isn’t Free–I think the going rate is around a buck-oh-five. When the kids playing their MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games) realize they can earn real money by working together, they arrive at a crossroads: work within the corrupt system of bullies (The Man) or organize for better working conditions. Babies, lemme tell ya, The Man ain’t about better working conditions.

Listen, in case you don’t know this, I suppose I should be the one to tell you: Real Money ($) is passing between Real People (♀♂) in these games all the time, right now, in your world. Lets say you want better armor for your character: you can go mine the stuff from a mountain and forge it yourself, if you have the skill and the time, could take a week; or you can buy it from someone by transferring real money into the account they name. Here is an example from your world where this scheme is being perpetrated by prison guards in China. This is just one example. People get really creative when money is involved.

So, these kids are playing MMOs (or their working in factories, or both) and realize they could make Real Money ($), I’m talking buy-your-mom-a-new-house kind of money. But they aren’t the first ones to think that, and the competing entrepreneurs they run up against are genuine cutthroat capitalists who are not about to give an inch–bullies, in other words.

Not only did I love this book, but I loved the price, too. That’s right: free. You’ll find a link to Download for Free on the FOR THE WIN website and another link to Donate.

After reading it I went to the Donate page and figured out how to reimburse Doctorow for the book. I bought two copies from Powell’s and had them send it out to two of the addresses listed on the site–school libraries in Alaska and Oregon that had requested a copy. Because the book was such a fulfilling read and since Cory Doctorow is such an interesting dude, I was happy to chip in my buck-oh-five.

CLOCKWORK FAGIN – steampunk review

September 26, 2011 – 4:01 pm

Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have a promising new steampunk anthology hitting shelves on 11-October-2011 called STEAMPUNK! – AN ANTHOLOGY OF FANTASTICALLY RICH AND STRANGE STORIES.

Steampunk stories are everywhere right now and that’s a good thing. That means (a) it’s an adaptable genre and (b) writers are playing with it, and the more writers you get writing in this style, the more we all learn what this style is capable of. Anthologies provide great perspective and if Cory Doctorow’s CLOCKWORK FAGIN is any indication, then STEAMPUNK! is a must-read.

Noticeable elements of steampunk include cunning mechanisms, coal-fired boilers, gaslight parlors, and the like, evidence of the “steam” portion of the genre. But what about the “punk?”

Doctorow’s CLOCKWORK FAGIN ups the punk in steampunk with an able cast of think-outside-the-box characters. (Note: for a limited time Amazon is offering a free download of CLOCKWORK FAGIN.)

CLOCKWORK FAGIN is an alt.Dickensian story told by Sian O’Leary, a one-armed boy at Saint Agatha’s Home for the Rehabilitation of Crippled Children. The story is laid out in the first paragraph–an opening ¶ that perfectly resonates w/ the whole story, btw. It’s a stranger-comes-to-town story about the arrival of Monty Goldfarb and how he cleans up the place.

The story’s got clear goals which make for a fun read. The first goal (opening ¶, not a spoiler) is for the kids to gain their freedom. The next goal is for them to keep it. And then finally when it looks like their goose is cooked, their last goal is for all the marbles. There’s a cute denouement here, too, that bookends the story nicely.

Doctorow builds a convincing “steam” world that gives causality and purpose to the genre elements rather than just using them as decoration. The kids are in here, in trouble, as a natural result of the steampunk world they live in, and the solution to their problems also comes out of the elements of that world.

I especially like the presentation of the Public Computing Works, which for some readers will bring fond memories of Gibson’s & Sterling’s THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE. But it’s the well formed characters that make this grimly optimistic tale so much fun. Monty, Sian, little Girtie Shine-Pate, and the right bastard Grinder, each of them is solidly introduced and employed.

Doctorow makes it look easy with this richly detailed story. He has proven time and again that he can write intelligent believable kids in interesting Maker/DIY tech environments and leave you feeling like you might be able to cobble some of this stuff together yourself.

I enjoyed reading about these gimpy little brass jackers and I look forward to reading what else STEAMPUNK! has to offer.

Mailbag: FTW

October 17, 2011 – 11:22 am

A few months ago I reviewed Cory Doctorow’s FOR THE WIN. In that post I talked about how I had come across the book for free and that I liked it so much I ended up buying a copy and donating it to a school in Kodiak, Alaska. Well, today I got a very cool thank you card from the Kodiak Middle School librarian.

The card shows a painting of Kodiak by local Kodiak artist Annie Poirier. In fact, here’s a picture of the card (blurriness mine.) I love it! That is so Alaska with the puffins on a rocky promontory overlooking the ocean and infinity. I love that the card is by a local artist and that it’s an Alaskan pastoral. It speaks well of the KMS librarian, she supports local artists and works hard to get good books into the hands of her students.

I wish everybody up there in Kodiak the best of luck. Maybe I’ll see you around one of these days.