THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT ART and politics make incompatible bedfellows would do well to avoid Cory Doctorow's new YA novel For the Win. Doctorow is the editor of the website Boing Boing, as well as the author of the award-winning Little Brother, and he's internet-famous for his stance on, among other things, copyright laws (all of his books have been released for free online under Creative Commons licenses). That For the Win has an explicit political agenda isn't really a problem; that its agenda comprises the efficacy of its plot very much is.
Set in a near future in which "eight of the 20 largest economies in the world are in virtual countries," For the Win builds on the extant concept of "gold farmers"—workers, often in sweatshop conditions, who play MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) in order to acquire items which can then be sold to other players in the game. For the Win makes a logical leap from the exploitation of workers in our current global economy to the exploitation of workers in a hypothetical world where online games have tremendous economic impact.
The novel's protagonists are a global band of teenagers, bound by the games in which they work and their unwillingness to allow their labor to be exploited any longer. They form a union that's tooth-achingly dubbed the Webblies (also known as—ready?—the IWWW), and most of the book details their attempts to organize and their clashes with their bosses and the police.
There's a fantastic YA book nestled inside For the Win's 475 pages, but Doctorow needs to find himself a sterner editor. The book's just too crowded—there are too many characters, few of whom are allowed to fully develop, and Doctorow is perfectly willing to abandon an otherwise engaging plot for pages at a time in order to explain the history of the labor movement or the economic theories that underlie the gold-farming trade.
There are other, nitpickier problems: A more thorough editor would have reined in Doctorow's over-reliance on cliché, and a dismaying number of straight-up typos managed to slip through.
All of that being said, Doctorow's fundamental conceit—tech-savvy teenagers on the digital frontier of the labor movement—is completely irresistible. If you don't mind wading through a few unnecessary chapters, it's worth it.