“In Real Life” by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (First Second, 2014)

In Real Life
starstarstarstar

Bestselling author Cory Doctorow, of Little Brother and For the Win, and Jen Wang, known for her work with the Adventure Time comics and her graphic novel Koko Be Good, join forces to create a graphic novel about teenage girls, massive multiplayer online games and what gold farming really means. It’s a funny, addictive, entertaining but also sobering story that any gamer will soon become a big fan of.

Anda, a chubby teenager, gets introduced to a massive online game (MMO) called Coarsegold Online where she joins a female-only guild and has lots of fun leveling and gaining loot. She soon learns about gold farming from a friend in game, which consists of players from developing countries illegally collecting valuable objects and selling them to players from developed countries. But she soon befriends one and discovers while it may be illegal in game, it’s this boy’s life and how he makes money and supports himself and his family. Anda changes her stance about gold farmers and wants to see if she can help her new friend in some way and help him improve his way of life.

Originally written on August 14, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of In Real Life from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Homeland” by Cory Doctorow (Tor, 2013)

Homeland
starstarstarstar

After the traumatic events of the bestselling Little Brother, Cory Doctorow returns with the sequel in Homeland, as Marcus Yallow finds himself in a harsh world where the government is always watching and waiting.  His time being detained has scarred him in some ways — though not as bad as some of his friends — so that he is now less trusting than ever.  But he also knows that while the truth may not set or keep him free, getting it out to the masses is more important.

Homeland opens with an entertainingly fantastic chapter where Marcus is at Burning Man for the first time in his life, which Doctorow describes with such detail that it seems as if he may have been once or twice himself.  It culminates in a Dungeons & Dragons session with the founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and actor Wil Wheaton.  Marcus also comes across an old enemy and comes into possession of a flash drive with some very incendiary information.

Back in San Francisco, life is the same with Marcus’s parents out of work, as well as himself, with everyone trying to get by in this terrible economic climate.  Marcus gets a job offer he can’t refuse: working as the webmaster and tech guy for a candidate running as an independent for the California Senate, looking to change the world and make it a better place.  So things start to look up for a little while, but Marcus has to make the decision about what to do with the flash drive.  It contains a torrent address and password that lets him download gigs of information on the corruption in the government, hard proof of what they have perpetrated, how they have tortured, under the guise of protecting the American people.  Marcus will have to decide if his safety and health are worthy sacrifices for getting this information out to the people.

Doctorow keeps the thrill running just like he did with Little Brother, putting Marcus into tight spot after tight spot, using his friends when he can, but also knowing the risks of putting them in danger.  Doctorow also does a great job of using cutting edge technology to make the story feel a little futuristic, but at the same time completely plausible.  Fans will be sucked into Homeland and kept going until the last page, hoping for a possible future continuation to this chapter in the story of Marcus Yallow.

Originally written on April 27, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Homeland from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

Bookbanter Column: In an MMO Far, Far Away (December 16, 2011)

There are many people on this planet who know what an MMO and/or an MMORPG is, but by the same token – like so many things in life – there are also many people who don’t what those acronyms mean.  MMO stands for Massive Multiplayer Online, and MMORPG stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.  Some examples of these MMOs include EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and the forthcoming and constantly-growing-in-popularity Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is still in beta and scheduled to be fully released December 20.  They’re essentially online video games that allow for much more ability and opportunity than usual console-based video games, and have no real end point: with each new expansion, players have higher levels to achieve, more quests to do, and more of the world to explore.  Players get all this and more for a monthly fee, or some MMOs are free to play (ftp), but payment is required for certain quests or items.  There are literally millions of MMO players across the planet, and I’m proudly one of them.

What’s interesting is that MMOs are starting to show up in fiction, mainly science fiction, usually as a construct of the fictional world the author has created.  Sometimes it is a quasi dystopian future where playing the game is all there really is, while other books have the MMO be a main part of the story and play off it in the real world.  It is an interesting growing sub-genre of science fiction that seems to get new additions each year.

Below are the books featuring MMOs that I have come across in my reading and reviewing, though I am sure there are more out there and invite anyone reading this column to elucidate on them in the comments section.  As you read about these books and their respective MMOs, what do you think it says about our world and our society?  More importantly, what do you think it says about where we’re headed?  How likely is it that some form of one of these MMOs will come to be our reality?  You be the judge.

Reamde

Reamde by Neal Stephenson: Richard Forthrast is our approaching-middle-age hero who is one of the big brains behind the multi-billion dollar MMO, T’Rain, which is known throughout the world, whether you’re a rich white kid who likes to pretend he’s an elf, or a gold farmer somewhere in Asia looking to make some good money.  T’Rain was in fact created with that in mind – Richard’s past is not a completely clean one by any means – to be open and available and possibly profitable to just about anyone on the planet with a good Internet connection.  And then a very specific virus attacks T’Rain, known as Reamde, which immediately begins making a lot of money for its creators and screwing over a lot of the regular players.  Richard and his team of brainiacs are now working round the clock trying to bring a stop to this.

Meanwhile, one of Richard’s family members – Zula – originally from East Africa and adopted into the family as a young girl, was hired by Richard to work for T’Rain, and becomes involved in a really big problem when her boyfriend Peter – who happens to be a renowned hacker – is looking to make good money selling credit card numbers to a shady, unknown character.  Things take a turn for the worse, when the Reamde virus hits and screws everything up for him.  Before they know it, the Russian mafia is breaking down their door, kidnapping them, and taking them to Asia by private jet to find the perpetrators of the Reamde virus and get their revenge. (Read the full review.)

Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: In the not-too-distant future, the world is quickly going to hell in a hand basket.  It’s very much a dystopian world, but within this gloomy, depressing place is an MMO that just about everyone plays.  OASIS is not just a game, but a way a life for most, where you can have fun, meet friends, got to school, and pretty much lead a full and entertaining life under the guise of your anonymous avatar (whose façade is of your choosing).  Depending on what people can afford, the experience can be fully sensory so that players feel as if they are actually existing in the world of OASIS and experiencing it in just about every way possible.

James Halliday, who grew up in the 1980’s when computers were beginning to take off, quickly became addicted to video games and then began making his own.  He is the creator of OASIS, which has gone from a game to life and reality for so many people in this world, and he is many times a billionaire.  When he dies, he activates his will which states that whoever finds the three keys and solves the puzzles will be entitled to his entire fortune.  Wade Watts is an eighteen year old nerd who has hopes of finding all three keys and gaining those untold riches.  His parents are dead and he lives with an aunt who treats him terribly and he cares little for her, scraping by in abject poverty.  And now he thinks he might’ve just found the location of the first key. (Read the full review; read an interview with the author.)

Omnitopia Dawn

Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane: There are two worlds here: the compelling fantasy world of the massive multiplayer online game (MMO) Omnitopia and the real world where video game companies fight to keep doing what they do best and keep the fans hooked, and make lots of money.  It is the near future and when one sits down to play an MMO – like Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft – they can use the familiar screen and keyboard set up, or there is the full immersion into the game, akin to virtual reality only better, where one experiences almost all senses of the game.  It is an incredible complex world of fighting and raiding, of gaining levels and increasing your wealth, and even eating and drinking with friends, while discussing your next strategies.  But Omnitopia is unique as every once in a while it selects one of its subscribers to create their own unique world of their own choosing and actually make money from it.  So there is the world of Omnitopia, and then there are the thousands of other user-created worlds covering all of history and the imagination.  The result is a game that one can quite literally be completely absorbed by, almost forgetting the real world.

Rik Maliani is an ordinary person with an ordinary job who’s been a fan and player of Omnitopia for years.   Then he gets selected to create his own world; it’s a dream come true, especially with the possibility of making serious money, but the question is what type of world to make?  What would make it truly unique and encourage people to come see and play?  As Rik begins creating his world, he notices some unusual events happening in the world of Omnitopia that seem to affect the one he is creating, but at the same time to be affected by his world somehow.

Dev Logan is the CEO of Omnitopia and started the whole enterprise many years ago as a college student, and is now the eighth richest man in the world because of it.  He has a crack team of computer whizzes and geniuses who spend their days monitoring Omnitopia, making sure it’s running as smoothly as possible, and preventing the constant attacks and hacks against the worldwide popular MMO.  And now things are really heating up, as the new expansion is about to be released.  Everyone is working pretty much nonstop and none more so than Dev, who forgets to even eat at times.  Delia Harrington is doing a story on Omnitopia for Time Magazine about the company and the expansion.  As Dev deals with the reporter – who seems to be snooping around a little more than she should be – he’s constantly being barraged by updates and news on what’s happening with Omnitopia.  It seems there are an absurd number of attacks building against the MMO, more so than usual, even for an expansion, but then that’s all in a day’s work for the CEO of Omnitopia.

Finally, there is Phil Sorensen, who was a good friend of Dev’s in college – they were going to revolutionize the gaming world together, but then had a falling out – and is the CEO for Infinity Inc. with his own giant, money-making MMO.  He would like nothing more than to see everything that is Omnitopia come crashing down, and have Dev come crying back to him.  He’s going to stop at nothing to make this happen. (Read the full review.)

For the Win

For the Win by Cory Doctorow: For anyone who’s ever played an MMO game like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, you know it can be a lot of fun.  What you might not know is that if you’re really good at it, play it just right, and know where to advertise, you can make a lot of money from it.  There are certain quests or missions that can be repeated over and over for maximum experience points and/or gold; that gold can be turned into cash.  People who do this are known as gold farmers; it’s illegal; thousands of people around the world do it for profit. (Read the full review; listen to an interview with the author.)

Daemon

Daemon by Daniel Suarez: Daemon begins with Matthew Sobol, a renowned computer programmer and video game designer, dead from cancer.  It is upon his death, when the obituary is posted online, that the dormant daemon is unleashed upon the world.  In this world – just like our own – everything is automated and computerized: banking, transportation, defense, government, patient records; there are few things remaining “off the grid.”  The daemon works fast and incredibly efficient, beginning a systematic takedown of technology and world systems, causing deaths and the collapse of companies, and a financial meltdown that is scarily similar to the current economic climate.

It’s up to Detective Sebeck and computer genius Jon Ross to try and stop the daemon somehow from destroying everything.  Then there is The Grid, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game – in the style of World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online – created by Sobol, where the daemon secretly begins recruiting the disaffected but brilliant youth who play the game as part of its efforts to bring down technology and society. (Read the full
review
; listen to an interview with the author.)

As you can see, each MMO is quite different in each book, and in how the MMO is used as a construct.  Sometimes it is a tool for good, sometimes a tool for evil, and sometimes a tool for something completely different.  Regardless of what the future may hold for us in the growing world of MMOs, and whether any of these possible and seemingly plausible realities will come into being, the fact that this subject is being written about by a growing number of different authors sends a message that this is not something we can just ignore or assume will go away.  MMOs are here to stay, whether some of us like it or not, for good or ill; the question remains: how are they going to stay and what affect will they grow to and continue to have on our lives.  Only the future knows.

“Pirate Cinema” by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen, 2012)

Pirate Cinema
starstarstar

After the success of Little Brother and For the Win, bestselling author Cory Doctorow returns with another young adult novel about an oppressed youth who is looking to change the world for the better in an uncertain near future.  This time Doctorow jumps across the pond to Britain, where he spends a good portion of his time, and writes about the subject of internet piracy.

In a near future, Trent McCauley is a smart sixteen year-old who does his school work but spends most of his time downloading videos of a fictitious celebrity and creating vids about him using clips from all the movies the person has been in, telling a specific story, usually played to music.  He has a lot of fun doing it and there’s definitely an artwork and talent to it.  Then the internet is cut off in the household under the recent law for internet piracy, and the family is now severed from the internet at home for a whole year; which is really important.  Trent’s sister needs it to do all her school work, she simply won’t pass her classes without it; his mother needs it to get support for her medical condition; and his father needs it because he’s unemployed, and needs to claim his unemployment checks, as well as look for jobs.  It puts the family in a dire situation, with Trent feeling really guilty about the whole thing.

So he does what any teenager would logically do: he runs away from home.  He arrives in London with high hopes of living on the street, which are soon dashed when his belongings are stolen and he finds himself hungry and terribly alone, and wondering if he’s made a terrible mistake.  But he soon makes some new friends who show him the ropes and how to get by pretty easily in London, eventually leading them to squat in an abandoned pub, where they get the power back on, the internet going, and life begins to go pretty well.

Their goal is to have lots of movie viewing parties via a secret internet website that gets people together, to support the vid-making industry and create awareness about what they’re doing and why it isn’t wrong and shouldn’t be illegal.  They’re also looking to fight back against the passing of a recent law in Parliament that is now imprisoning teenagers and children for internet piracy.  Their numbers begin to grow, and gain support; the question is how they are going to make this change happen, without coming off as a radical group of homeless people.

Pirate Cinema feels a lot like the British version of Little Brother, as Doctorow has done his work with how the government works and how the internet is used and perceived in Britain.  He even goes so far as to use a British vernacular, with plenty of slang thrown in.  The weakness of the book is in the conflicts and issues the main character has to deal with.  Trent definitely gets himself into some direct situations and problems, but they’re never really that hard or tough, and he always gets out of it real easy.  It still makes for an enjoyable story that is lacking in potential dramatic tension.  Readers — especially teens — will nevertheless enjoy the book for what it’s trying to do.

Originally written on December 5, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Pirate Cinema from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

With a Little Help  Makers  Little Brother  For the Win

“The Chronicles of Harris Burdick” edited by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

Chronicles of Harris Burdick
starstarstarstarstar

Many readers, no matter what age they might be, are familiar with Chris Van Allsburg’s unforgettable, award-winning classic, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, presenting fourteen unique and incredible illustrations that spark the mind and begin moving the gears of the imagination.  The illustrations have gone on to serve as great starting points for many schoolkids around the world looking to engage and develop their storytelling and writing abilities; a number of them still have those original stories they created when they were kids (my wife is one of them).

Now, over twenty-five years after the publication of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, fourteen renowned and well-known authors put their own minds to the task of creating original stories from these iconic works of art.  The likes of Louis Sachar, Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Lois Lowry, and even Chris Van Allsburg himself, create their own moving and special stories, most of them published here for the first time.  Stephen King also takes on the story of the house launching itself into the sky, originally published in his Nightmares & Dreamscapes short story collection, it is reprinted here.  The Chronicles of Harris Burdick also features an introduction from Lemony Snicket, with some of his thoughts on where these illustrations might have come from.

 The book is a keeper, to be added next to one’s own copy of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and to be picked up and read, as well as read aloud to others, over and over again.

Originally written on November 20, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

11/09/11 On the Bookshelf . . . “The Prague Cemetery” & “The Chronicles of Harris Burdick”

Prague Cemetery    Chronicles of Harris Burdick

The new one from Umberto Eco, which sounds real interesting, and maybe I’ll finally read my first Umberto Eco book!  And then we have a certain well known book by Chris Van Allsberg with some truly unforgettable images, and Stephen King happened to write a great short story off of one of them in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and now 13 other authors have done the same and we have this great collection of stories on these images, featuring original writing by Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, and more.

“With at Little Help” by Cory Doctorow (CreateSpace, 2011)

With a Little Help
starstarstarstar

By now many people will be familiar with the bestselling co-editor of Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow, after the young adult novel Little Brother, and his great adult book, Makers.  Doctorow clearly has a knack for not just being to be able to string a bunch of words together creatively and skillfully, but each and every story is an important “What if?” to tell.  Sometimes Doctorow offers dates, sometimes not; but readers can usually guess his stories are set in either the near future or within the next hundred years, involving a possible future that will capture, delight, and sometimes terrify.  Doctorow seems to grasp at our idle thoughts of this century and the next, transforming them into a believable possibility that really makes us wonder.

With a Little Help collects thirteen of his short stories that have seen publication in anthologies or magazines or other media over the past few years revealing Doctorow’s ability to tell a great, captivating science fiction story not just in long form, but also in short with developed characters you can connect with and a story that will haunt you and stay with you long after you have finished it.  Whether it’s the Internet, government, politics, or religion, Doctorow seems to have a unique take on it all, presenting a world that we’re encroaching upon right now, or will be in the ensuing decades.

The book is also an experiment in itself, only available as a print on demand in printed form, or available free as an ebook, though donations are politely requested through his website.  One might think in this day and age of piracy and scouring the Internet for illegal free items, this concept would result in failure, and yet this great collection continues to make money, which Doctorow isn’t ashamed to hide with monthly financial reports.  Perhaps, then, this is the message he is trying to share in his compelling stories: there is still hope . . .

Originally written on June 7, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

You might also like . . .

Little Brother    For the Win   Makers