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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow Cory Doctorow is one of the high profile current crop of sci-fi authors, he is also famous for his blogs on Boing Boing, and his stance on liberalising copyright laws (he even got into a trouble with the legendary [a:Ursula K. Le Guin|874602|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1244291425p2/874602.jpg] for posting an article she wrote on his web site.

The first book I read of Doctorow’s was [b:Little Brother|954674|Little Brother (Little Brother, #1)|Cory Doctorow|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1349673129s/954674.jpg|939584] I enjoyed it very much though I felt that the prose and dialog could be a little better. Three years later I just got around to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, his first novel, and still one of his most popular (after [b:Little Brother|954674|Little Brother (Little Brother, #1)|Cory Doctorow|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1349673129s/954674.jpg|939584]). When somebody at PrintSF (sf reading community) asks about where to start with Doctorow’s books this book always comes up.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is set in a post-scarcity economy where hunger, poverty and even death have been made obsolete. The absence of hunger hand poverty is not elaborated on very much but there is a mention “Makers” which seem to be the kind of nanotechnology “make anything” machines featured in Neal Stephenson's [b:The Diamond Age|827|The Diamond Age|Neal Stephenson|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388180931s/827.jpg|2181158] and Charles Stross’ [b:Singularity Sky|81992|Singularity Sky (Eschaton, #1)|Charles Stross|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386924988s/81992.jpg|1192005]. With all material wants satisfied money is no longer in use, however, there is still a currency of sorts called “Whuffies”. If I understand correctly whuffies are similar to “Likes” on Facebook or “Upvotes” on Reddit. The important difference is that whuffies are actually worth something, nice seats at restaurant, nicer houses and other privileges. The story of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom concerns the protagonist / narrator Julius’ struggle to hold on to his management position at Liberty Square in Disney World (the Magic Kingdom).

I like the 22nd century world that Doctorow depicts in this book, definitely one of the more optimistic visions of the future. The abolition of death through “backups” is always an interesting trope for speculation of how we would view our lives given that immortality is a thing. Personally I am of the opinion that after you are dead the version of you restored from a backup and put in a cloned body is not really you. Whatever your take on this idea may be it is regrettable that the issue is not explored in this book. Having built such an interesting post-singularity world it is a pity that Doctorow decides to focus the entire book on Walt Disney World, I am sure it is a very nice resort (never been there) but I want to know more about the world outside of it.

Doctorow employs a few neologisms in this book and he does not directly explain any of them. This is a fine tradition in sf writing where the meaning of the made up words gradually unfold through the context of the book. However, for the meanings to be inferred the author has to give clearer hints than what Doctorow has done here. For example after seeing the word “whuffie” a couple of times I assumed it is similar to Facebook’s “Like” but I did not know it has replaced currency. My failure or the author’s? You be the judge. Also words like “Bitchun Society” just sounds too juvenile to be used in any official capacity.

I have a feeling that with this first novel Doctorow tried too hard to be hip, hipster prose is really not very appealing to me. The protagonist and narrator Julius is too self indulgent to be sympathetic, as are all the other characters. The prose style is accessible and the dialogue is tolerable but I think Doctorow’s writing skills have improved substantially by the time he wrote [b:Little Brother|954674|Little Brother (Little Brother, #1)|Cory Doctorow|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1349673129s/954674.jpg|939584].

I can recommend this book with the above mentioned reservations. The world and the technology is quite interesting, the book is easy to read and quite short (around 200 pages). More importantly Cory Doctorow has made this book available as a free e-book which you can download at Project Gutenberg (link) and other sites.