August 2011

BOOK REVIEW | For The Win by Cory Doctorow Thumbnail

Cory Doctorow’s latest YA novel, For The Win, just might be the Jungle of the digital age — a depiction of the plight of professional gamers and their struggle to unionize and extract concessions such as better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions (?!) from their employers through collective bargaining. Not being an avid gamer myself, much less a professional gold farmer, I’m left to wonder if it is as poorly researched and inaccurate as Upton Sinclair’s piece of socialist propaganda fiction. I expect left-libertarians will tend to like this novel but other libertarians will not. As for myself, I struggled to finish it and do not recommend it — as much because of the writing style and quality of writing as the subject matter.

For The Win opens with a gifted Chinese gold farmer — a working gamer who plays to collect game money and items to sell for “real” money to “rich,” lazy, mostly American gamers — in China who just happens to have the Western name of Matthew. He’s attempting to strike out on his own but is visited by Boss Wing’s goons and taught a lesson. Then we meet an American Jew in Los Angeles who goes by the Chinese name of Wei-Dong and moonlights, against his parents’ orders, as a gold farmer with some online buddies in China. Next, we’re introduced to Mala, aka General Robotwallah, a poor Indian girl with a talent for strategy and leadership, who is hired by a mysterious man to use her “army” to harass gold farmers in-game because they allegedly disrupt the game for honest, paying customers.

Before long we’re introduced to Big Sister Nor, a mysterious new figure on the scene who is out to organize working gamers into a union to fight corruption and improve their circumstances. As the novel progresses, we’re introduced to more characters, mostly in China and India, where the bulk of the action takes place. Perhaps the most notable is a female Chinese underground radio host who caters to the factory girls, giving them advice and urging them to stand up for themselves, while she dodges police raids, moving from safe house to safe house under a series of false identities.

One of the themes of the novel is how difficult it has been historically for workers to organize and how the internet (including social media and online games) provide game-changing tools for organizing labor. There is much truth to this, though I am skeptical that even the myriad tools of the internet can allow a voluntary global union to pull off anything like the ambitious scheme Cory’s protagonists endeavor to carry out in the novel. Although Cory has characters voice the usual skeptical objections to the efficacy of a voluntary global union, I don’t think he adequately addresses the difficulties such a union would face even in the digital age. Without state-backed coercion (directed at businesses, scabs, and their own members), how much power would a union really have, particularly spread out over the globe? Sure, gamers have an advantage in that they all work virtually in the same place — but still…

To Cory’s credit, however, he does depict a truly voluntary union whose leaders welcome freely competing unions in the market. The International Workers of the World Wide Web (IWWWW) or Webblies, as they call themselves,1 even eschew a formal hierarchy. The de facto head of the union at one point exclaims to her followers, “I’m not magic. … You all lead yourselves.” They also, admirably, do not seek compliance with their demands through legislation or regulation. Instead, they engage in self-help. Libertarians may find some of their methods questionable, however.

[Keep reading…]


  1. These terms were coined by Ken MacLeod, based on the real Industrial Workers of the World (or Wobblies), and borrowed by Cory Doctorow. 

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Vernor Vinge

Vernor Vinge

From the Reason.com blogpost:

Vernor Vinge is a former San Diego State University math professor and a Hugo award-winning science fiction novelist. In Vinge’s 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity” Vinge wrote, “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”

We sat down with Vinge to learn more about his influences, his novels and the coming singularity.

Vinge’s latest novel, The Children of the Sky, will be released in October 2011.

Produced by Paul Feine, Alex Manning and Zach Weissmueller.

Approximately 7 minutes.

Go to reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv’s YouTube Channel to receive notifications when new material goes live.

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Hunter by Robert Bidinotto

In a recent addition to the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach uses Objectivist Robert Bidinotto’s novel Hunter as a launchpad to discuss Objectivist subculture and fear.

You can also read the transcript below:

In a recent conversation with a younger libertarian, I heard something that I found somewhat surprising and somewhat disturbing at the same time. But later, on reflection, I realized that what I had heard should not have surprised me, however much it may still disturb me. My young friend had said, and I paraphrase here, that he was surprised to learn that I thought of Objectivists as libertarians at all. Based on what he had seen of the positions they took on political issues, especially foreign policy, he had concluded that they were just another kind of neocon.

I refer to this younger libertarian as “my young friend,” but the fact is, he’s no kid; he’s in his early 40s, which tells you how long the situation with respect to Objectivism that I’m going to describe and deplore has been going on — that a man in his 40s cannot remember a time when leading Objectivists didn’t talk in such a way about questions of US foreign policy (and about other questions as well, as we shall see) that they become hard to differentiate from certain kinds of conservatives and hard to see as any sort of libertarian.

But before I get further into that depressing theme, there’s a new book I’d like to commend to your attention. It’s a novel entitled Hunter: A Thriller, and it’s the work of the prominent Objectivist writer Robert Bidinotto. Now, a word of caution. What follows is not properly a book review, because what I’m really interested in talking about here is not Bidinotto’s thriller in its capacity as a novel, an entertainment, a work of “popular art,” but rather what it can tell us in its capacity as a cultural artifact.

[Keep reading…]

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Ted Lacksonen

Ted Lacksonen

The Eagle Has Crashed by Ted Lacksonen

The Eagle Has Crashed is the provocative title of Ted Lacksonen’s first novel. Known as The Country Thinker on the Internet, Mr. Lacksonen has written a tale of what may be in store for this country if we don’t sober up and start walking the straight and narrow. His main concern is our mounting debt and how that could destroy our financial future and, through a chain reaction, tear our nation apart.

The near-future story follows the fortunes of many different people as a time of tribulations begins. Though a few high ranking officials do play a role, including the President of the United States, most of the characters are ordinary citizens in central Ohio, where Mr. Lacksonen lives. When the economy begins to crack, a series of mishaps, tragedies and catastrophes like a crescendo of disaster wracks the country. People become desperate and respond according to their nature, some digging in to take care of themselves, others making sacrifices for what they see as the good of the country.

Though I have some sympathy for it, I am not fully in agreement with the message of the book. I do not believe debt would be the prime driver of an economic collapse. Rather than close the deficit and pay down the debt, I would prefer to see government spending come down. I would even look favorably on, or at least view as an improvement, a budget deal that increased the deficit if it also cut revenues — that Washington euphemism for stolen money — and spending (a real cut, not the fake cuts we have been hearing about). Nevertheless, I do not argue that debt is trivial or innocuous, and it is nice to see an author use it as a backdrop for his tale.

[Keep reading…]

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