Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

Untitled 9.jpg In 2003 Cory Doctorow raised a lot of eyebrows when he released his fist novel under the Creative Commons license. Basically it was free. You could download it from his website, there were free audio recordings. There was a dead tree version printed by a publishing house, which, of course, was not free.

In the not-too-distant future the Bitchun Society rules the world. Mostly because anybody who opposed them died of old age. Everybody who didn’t was given knew bodies when theirs got old, or sick, or injured or, even when they died. Everything is based on a meritocracy, of sorts. People compete for whuffie, which is like currency only it’s more like an approval rating.

Julius is one of the older generation. He can remember the world before the Bitchun Society. Finding that he suddenly has forever to live he earns several doctorate degrees, composes some symphonies, lives in space for awhile and then settles down living in Disney World. There he oversees the Haunted Mansion. Disney World is run by a group of Ad Hocs that each run different rides in the park.

When Julius is murdered shortly after reuniting with his old friend Dan he sets out on a quest to discover who murdered him. His quest quickly turns to paranoia as he begins to suspect the other Ad Hocs of plotting his murder to try and take over the Haunted Mansion.

This book has a lot of elements that should make it appealing to me. It’s set in Disney World, for one, which is unique and exciting to imagine. I suspect this is even more of a draw to people who have actually seen the Haunted Mansion and the Hall of Presidents. It is also very human, the protagonist is just a little crazy, but nothing over the top. The story moves swiftly and the character relationships are real.

However there were two minor flaws that kept me from loving this book and one major one that kept me from enjoying it.

First of all, what does one do when they can live forever? This question has been asked before and every side of the die has been examined. There’s not much new to do in this area – I won’t say there is nothing because somebody might surprise me. This book definitely doesn’t bring anything new to the table in that regard. The cure for death has been done, ad nauseam, and everybody’s explanation is a computer back up of your brain that is then reprogrammed into a clone. Cory Doctorow does point this out in a conversation between Dan and Julius when they argue about whether or not it is really you that is restored from backup.

Second is the mildly annoying framing device. (Paraphrasing) “I am writing this so that I won’t forget it some day and that’s why the whole story is in the first person.” This is probably just a pet peeve of mine but this didn’t really fool anybody back when Mark Twain and H. G. Wells were doing it. What makes people think it will work today?

My biggest complaint is the profanity. It’s not prevalent but every time I would start getting into the story and enjoying things again the ugly monster would rise up for a few sentences. This probably doesn’t bother most readers but I found it jarring and it kept me from really enjoying this book.

If not for that last I think I would rate this book much higher. It definitely feels real and exciting and does an incredible job of putting the reader inside the head of the protagonist. It just went too far too many times.



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