Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For The Win

Do you know how big a fan I am of Cory Doctorow's YA novel Little Brother? For the last couple of years I've kept an extra copy around in case we need a last-minute birthday party present. Because what teenager doesn't need to read that book?

Well, Doctorow has a new novel out, and it's entitled For The Win. It's about gaming, so I wasn't going to buy it, but when I saw it at the library I brought it home and Walker read it. He thought it was good enough that I should read it, so I started it and read a little, but didn't get all that interested. "Do I really need to read more of this?" I asked him and he said "yes, you really do; it gets more interesting." So I kept at it, and of course, he was right. It's about more than gaming; the title has a nice ironic resonance. It's not the kind of book I'm going to get extra copies of--or even buy, for that matter, but it was worth reading.

One of the thing that makes it worth giving to your kid to read is the clarity and brevity of the explanations. In a few places, the narrative demands that an idea like "inflation" be explained, and Doctorow manages to have one of the characters deliver enough of the idea, along with some context, to allow young readers to seriously consider the worth of an idea that the gamers are about to implement, like here:

"There's a saying from physics, 'It's turtles all the way down.' Do you know it? It comes from a story about a British physicist, Bertrand Russell, who gave a lecture about the universe, how the Earth goes around the Sun and so on. And a little old granny in the audience says, 'It's all rubbish! The world is flat and rests on the back of a turtle!' And Russell says 'If that's so, what does the turtle stand on?' And the granny says 'On another turtle!' Russell thinks he has her here, and asks, 'What does that turtle stand on?' She replies, 'You can't fool me, sonny; it's turtles all the way down!' In other words, what lives under the illusion is yet another illusion, and under that one is another illusion again. Supposedly good currency is backed by gold, but the gold itself doesn't exist. Bad currency isn't backed by gold, it's backed by other currencies, and they don't exist. At the end of the day, all that any of this is based on is, what, can you tell me?"
"Belief," Yasmin said. "Or fear, yes? Fear that if you stop believing in the money, you won't be able to buy anything. It is just like game gold!"

Another thing I like is the way the kids communicate; they're inventive, like the kids in Little Brother. Here's how some of the characters in China send messages to each other and to people outside their country:
"We just pick a random blog out there on the net, usually one that no one has posted to in a year or two, and we take over the comment board on one of its posts. Once they block it--or the server crashes--we switch to another one. It's easy--and fun!"

There are some interesting insights into online security issues and collective bargaining along the way. One of my favorite parts is a variation on civil disobedience, when some kids decide that the way to show their solidarity with a worker protest is to buy ice cream and walk around in front of a business eating it. And if the police arrest them for that, one character says, they're going to try smiling, to see if the police can arrest them all for smiling.

There's a personal appeal, for me, in reading about people who are faced with an impossible task but don't give up. And on that note, I would like to announce that I'm less underemployed now--I got a job as music director of the spring musical at Eleanor and Walker's high school, which means, among other things, that there will be a musical this spring! Win all around!

11 comments:

FreshHell said...

Congrats on the job! That is a win all around.

PAJ said...

The new job sounds like fun. Congrats!

Amanda said...

I couldn't even finish Little Brother, so I've not considered reading any of Doctorow's other books. But congrats on the new job!

readersguide said...

Hooray on getting the job! And a kind of amazing job, too!

Melissa said...

Congrats on the musical! Sounds like fun.

Nymeth said...

Like you I adored Little Brother - and I actually have a copy of this one, but left it back home. Thank you for reminding me that I ought to read it during Christmas break!

Congrats on the new job :D

Jenny said...

Gaming like online gaming? A year ago that would have put me off, but I've been watching Felicia Day's completely delightful webseries The Guild, which is about online gaming, and it's changed my mind.

And congratulations on the job! Have you thought about what musical y'all are going to do? Keep us updated because I am curious. :)

Jodie said...

I came away from Little Brother loving the characters but wondering if it was a bit too explainy, but the concepts Doctrow explains are so complex and so important I think we can all do with a little bit of explanation. Finances are not my strong point so this sounds like a fun story that would also help me learn (I sound like a childrens tv presentor right now don't I?).

Congratulations on the job - do you know what the musical will be yet?

Jeanne said...

Thanks for all the good wishes on the job--it sounds like fun to me, too. I've suggested some musicals to the director, and he's ordering "perusal scripts" for us to consider. We have to work within some particular constraints including no period costuming and not too many male actors, and I will indeed tell you what we decide! Three of my suggestions are Pippin, Dames at Sea, and Into the Woods (although I've been cautioned about trying to do Sondheim with high-school-aged singers).

Amanda, when your sons get older, you might suggest Little Brother to one of them--in some ways, it really is a book for young adults more than for their parents. My recent concern about the erosion of freedom under the thumb of TSA makes me think more than ever that Little Brother is an important novel.

Nymeth, it's worth reading, but like I said, it's not as good so try to adjust your expectations.

Jenny, yes, I meant online gaming, which is something I know next to nothing about, so if I enjoyed reading about it, anyone can! I have to confess that I follow Felicia Day's tweets and have heard her talking about The Guild. So far I've never watched it; I tend to watch tv only when it comes out on dvd later. (Why do I follow Felicia? Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog!)

Jodie, this one is even more explainy, which is one reason I think it's even more for young adults.

fakesteph said...

I've had Little Brother on my shelf for about a year. Now I'll have to make sure I actually read it sooner than later.

Jeanne said...

FakeSteph, Once you've read it, I'll bet you'll be a convert. I look forward to hearing what you think.