For The Win is Cory Doctorow's newest book, and like most of his works, it is available on-line for free (donations accepted). It is also available in hardcopy, although my local Barnes and Noble does not have a copy. My local library does however, tucked away in the young adult section, and if my small-town library has a copy, odds are yours will too.
Theoretically this is a work of Science Fiction. In actuality, it is a work of economic fiction. Of course, most of Cory Doctorow's works are economic fiction, but in this case he's dropped all but the lightest vestiges of science fiction, adding in just enough technical developments to suggest that the story takes place 5-10 years in the future, and not a particularly advanced future at that. For the most part, the advances we see are in game development, specifically MMORPGs -- because that's what the book is about.
This is the story of a number of workers from around the world who make their living gold farming, escorting noobs through difficult quests, and otherwise making real money by working in virtual economies. A young girl in India, a teenager in California, a young adult in China, all working in games that do not want them, selling their services in the black markets of the internet. None of this is new, but the story picks up at an undefined point in the future where game economies have RL speculative investors betting on futures of game money and goods, a future in which 8 of the world's 20 largest economies are on-line games, a future in which the gaming companies have started to take violations of the Terms of Service seriously. The biggest threat is not from the gaming companies themselves, however, but the black market entrepreneurs that profit from the gold farmers. They violently beat competitors and attempted upstarts, they blackmail and coerce their workers into working for little pay and long hours, and they control access to the on-line markets where virtual gold is sold.
Enter Big Sister Nor, a labor organizer who has decided to make the on-line workers, the Webblies, her next cause. She sees the internet workers as the ultimate worker's union, and the ultimate organizing force. All the workers, wherever they are based, are all in one (virtual) place, and can plot, organize, and strike as one. She starts to build armies of workers who will forcibly back up a strike by PKing anyone who farms in a strike zone, and protect farmers from 'Pinkertons', corporately funded groups that hunt gold farmers. This movement is not limited to the virtual world by any means. The battle involves factory workers in China, street gangs in India, and economists the world over.
This novel is a bit of an oddity for Cory Doctorow, as it involves no new and exciting ideas -- only old and exciting ideas moved into the near future. It is an excellent story of downtrodden workers fighting for their basic rights, of revolution and upheaval, and of economic theory. But it doesn't contain much in the way of new ideas. An important note about the book: most of Cory Doctorow's earlier works are great SF, but are a little weak in the areas of plot development and writing style. This is by far his most polished book, moving along smoothly and quickly, building nicely, and with good character development. His writing style is starting to remind me of Orson Scott Card (although that is partly because a bunch of kids forming an elite fighting force reminds me of Ender's Game). I highly recommend this book, although I hope that his next book includes more of the types of ideas that made him famous in addition to the good writing.
Some of you, upon reading this review, may have noticed that this seems like a story you've read before... It is in fact extremely reminiscent of his short story Anda's Game (one of the great things about stories released under the Creative Commons licence is that they can be noded; here is the original story, and it's worth reading). Anda's Game is essentially a short version of the same story, written six years ago. It has matured nicely, and has a completely new cast. For The Win covers much the same territory in much more detail and at greater length, but Anda's Game is a good indicator as to whether a book set in a MMORPG is right for you.