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REVIEW: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

REVIEW SUMMARY: An entertaining way to pass the time.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A fight for control over Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion in a meritocratic near-future.


PROS: Interesting plot; quick read; it’s free!

CONS: Some inconsistent character behavior.

BOTTOM LINE: A very good book.

Well, my first experiment into eBooks turned out to be pretty positive.

I’ve been flirting with reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom ever since I saw it, ironically, in a bookstore. I say ironically because the book is written by BoingBoing blog author Cory Doctorow, who makes the book freely available on his website. This short book is super-accessible (BoingBoing is also one of sfsignal’s home page links) but it took a trip to the bookstore to discover it. Against my better judgment, I downloaded the eBook version and started reading. And I’m glad I did. This is a really good book.

Set in a Disneyland of the meritocratic near future, the story involves the fight for control over the Haunted Mansion. In this near-future, death has been made obsolete; people can download their hardwired memories into new clones whenever anything as bad as the sniffles happens to them. The downside to this pseudo-immortality is that the population is ever-increasing. In this so-called “Bitchun” society, wealth is measured in Whuffies which is essentially a system of respect points. The more you are respected by others, the more Whuffie you have. Do something perceived as bad and your Whuffie will plummet. Within this system, work is voluntary. Corporations are extinct as people have formed societal microcosms called “ad-hocs”.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom follows the story of Julius, a member of the ad-hoc that runs the haunted Mansion at Disneyworld. Things heat up when the ad-hoc that maintains the Hall of Presidents add some high-tech features to their attraction. When Julius is murdered (don’t worry, it’s his third time) and his memories are downloaded into his forced-grown clone, it appears to be the work of the rival ad-hoc in an attempt to gain control over the Mansion. With the help of his girlfriend Lil and his suicidal loner fiend Keep A-Movin’ Dan, Julius fights to maintain control of his dream.

There are few, but really cool, sf ideas embedded in this story: Each person is mentally connected to the Net and can instantly transfer data. The boredom of longevity is relieved by “deadheading” – storing your memories long term to see what life is like in the future. One Disneyland attraction is enhanced with memory-inducing technology. These technologies are expertly weaved into the story.

The writing style makes this a quick read. Not that this short length novel needed any help. The plot was interesting enough (although not science-fictiony enough for my mood) and really easy to follow. There was not a whole lot of depth here. The Disneyland setting was an interesting choice. I found the Julius character to be mildly inconsistent in his actions. His attempted sabotage of the rival attraction is definitely not good for his Whuffie! But, I suppose that lends to his eventual decline in status that is otherwise well portrayed.

Minor nits all. Overall, this was a really good book and an entertaining way to pass the time.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

2 Comments on REVIEW: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

  1. I read this one too, and I would probably give it 3 stars. I found the writting to be rather dry, the characters rather 2 dimensional and, at heart, its really a ‘murder’ mystery. There are some cool ideas strewn throughout the story, but ideas alone won’t carry a story to 5 stars.

    I just downloaded his next book, Eastern Standard Tribe, and it also takes place in a near-future Earth where the Internet has morphed into something much more pervasive and readily accessible. I’m only about 30 pages in so I’m not exactly sure what the story is going to be about. Something about people from different time zones trying to influences things in other zones to their advantage. And Doctorow uses an interesting device in that he will jump between 1st and 3rd person in the flow of the narrative. The protagonist starts out talking to himself (us) in the 1st person, then switches smoothly to the 3rd person to tell events that happened in the recent past. The current events are told in 1st person, the past events in 3rd, and each chapter switches between them as necessary. Kinda neat.

  2. UPDATE: Cory just won the Locus Award for Best First Novel of 2003 with Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

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