Book review

This week I finished Cory Doctorow’s “For the Win”. Cory makes the majority of his books available for free here: http://craphound.com/ftw/download/. I did buy mine, for the e-reader. It was less than £4.

“For the Win” is a sort of a sequel to “Little Brother”. There aren’t any common characters, but they’re both near-future, real world books. They both feature young, brave, uncompromising computer literate protagonists and oppressive, heavy handed governments. Where “Little Brother” is concerned with American state surveillance, “For the Win” is more global – it explores the lives of Chinese and Indian “gold farmers” – young people who play massive multiplayer online games in order to earn gold and specialist items which they can then sell, for real money, to players in the west. To make this more interesting, Cory has spun the wheels of the future round a few turns, positing a scenario where the games are now so vast that their economies are as large as those of small countries. The action happens where the work in these games intersects with real life sweatshops.

What makes these young adult books is that Cory explains in detail about the economic, financial and technical ways in which the world ticks. in “Little Brother”, he explains how surveillance gait recognition cameras work and how you could fool them, how you can encrypt messages and use the Onion Router or make your own sub-internet wifi network that doesn’t go through an ISP. He lists resources in the back of the book. This is basically a toolkit for baby hackers. In “For the Win”, the explanations are financial, but they make sense of the economic crisis. As a reasonably well educated adult reading this, I don’t feel condescended to, just interested.

Another common vein running through Cory’s books is his unshakeable optimism that whatever the ills of the world, the internet can fix them. Whether it’s bringing workers together to support each other globally, providing people with a way to communicate without being spied on, generating income for the dispossessed, Cory’s characters adapt, notch up their intelligence, and use the internet and technology at its bleeding edge to ride the scary changes the world is currently going through. They’re uplifting. I’m certainly giving them to my children to read.

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In a complete volte-face, the book I am currently reading is by “Wood Fables”, by an 19th Century naturalist called Richard Jeffries, and the protagonist is  Bevis, aged, so far as I can tell, about 5 years. He is currently deep in conversation with a squirrel.

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