Friday, October 1, 2010

a review of "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" [73]

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
Tor Books, ISBN 978-0765309532
December 5, 2003, 209 pages

"I lived long enough to see the cure for death; to see the rise of the Bitchun Society; to learn ten languages; to compose three symphonies; to realize my boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World; to see the death of the workplace and of work."

What would you think of a world in which there was no more death, a world in which there was no more scarcity of material goods, in which money no longer exists? This is the world that Jules lives in, at the age of about 100 years, a relative youngster. He has 'died' several times, but now it is no big deal. Everyone is 'online' constantly and in the event of your death, your latest complete download will simply be uploaded, 'refreshed',  in your new cloned body. And in the Bitchun Society there is no need for money. The only currency is something called Whuffie, a constantly updated measure of the esteem that others hold you in and a level that can be view by everyone else. The few things that are scarce in society, be it a restaurant reservation or the shortest line at an amusement part, goes to those with the highest whuffie. Without it, you are no one.
"This is how you hit bottom. You wake up in your friend's hotel room and you power up your handheld and it won't log you on. You press the call-button for the elevator and it gives you an angry buzz in return. You take the stairs to the lobby and no one looks at you as they jostle past you.
You become a non-person."
At present, Jules is living in Disney World, his lifelong dream, working with the ad-hoc group that runs The Haunted Mansion. Many, including Jules and his girlfriend Lil, have a fondness for the dated technology of the Liberty Square attractions, but not a fondness all share. Another group, including Debra, newly arrived from a great success in Disneyland Beijing and  one of the Disney old guard who originally took over the Park fro the corporations, see the future in totally personalized simulated rides, a visualization of the park. Jules finds himself murdered and when he awakes in his new cloned body, moves are already underway to take over his beloved Haunted Mansion..something Jules will risk everything that others hold precious to stop.

Down and Out is an interesting book on several levels. It is a short book, a quick read, filled with humor and  a lot of sharp banter that I found very entertaining. It is a science fiction novel, a book that offers a fairly benign yet disturbing view of the future. It is in part satire, in part a murder mystery with a few good twists and turns. But in my opinion, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is to consider what it would mean to live in a world in which there is no fear of death...morality in a world of immortality if you will.  In such a world, where the only important thing is doing whatever you have to collect more whuffie, what happens to love, to friendship, to any sense of accomplishment from our work? Interesting stuff.

But there is something else very interesting about this book of Mr. Doctorow. It was, in 2003, published under one of the Creative Common licenses, allowing copies of the work to be freely circulated but prohibiting commercial usage, at the same time that the print version was published. You can go to the author's own site, or a number of other sites, and download a free copy to be read on the device of your choosing. In my case, that was my android phone. In fact, it seems that most, if not all of his books and short stories are available for free download online. Great for readers...but I am not sure how that works out for an author who needs to make a living.

Mr. Doctorow also shares my concerns about issues related to DRM, Digital Rights Management (or digital restrictions management, depending on your point of view), and e-books and how it limits the rights of the legitimate owner to, for example, move the purchased file to other devices of their own choosing. If you have read my e-reader rants in the past, you know this is, by far, my greatest issue with e-readers.
Both the book...and it's format...was very thought provoking.


  1. Hm, some of the things in this book sound a little too far fetched for my feeble brain, but I'm interested since it was written by Cory Doctorow - I find him fascinating!

  2. When I saw the title, I thought it might be a memoir of working at Disney World (a sub-genre that Mr. Jenners has read almost everything in). But it doesn't sound like it is. It sounds quite odd ... and more to my liking than Mr. Jenners.

    And I do wonder how he can afford to give away his books.

  3. Cory Doctorow seems to be doing quite fine financially giving away his books. He also has a high profile day job (co-editor of the blog Boing Boing), which helps.

    I've only attempted to read one of his novels and found it just too weird for my taste.

  4. I. do wonder how much he makes from his writing of books...


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