Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
Jules is a young man barely a century old. He’s lived long enough to see the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn ten languages and compose three symphonies…and to realize his boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World.
Disney World! The greatest artistic achievement of the long-ago twentieth century. Now in the care of a network of volunteer “ad-hocs” who keep the classic attractions running as they always have, enhanced with only the smallest high-tech touches.
Now, though, it seems the “ad hocs” are under attack. A new group has taken over the Hall of the Presidents and is replacing its venerable audioanimatronics with new, immersive direct-to-brain interfaces that give guests the illusion of being Washington, Lincoln, and all the others. For Jules, this is an attack on the artistic purity of Disney World itself.
Worse: it appears this new group has had Jules killed. This upsets him. (It’s only his fourth death and revival, after all.) Now it’s war: war for the soul of the Magic Kingdom, a war of ever-shifting reputations, technical wizardry, and entirely unpredictable outcomes.
Bursting with cutting-edge speculation and human insight, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom reads like Neal Stephenson meets Nick Hornby: a coming-of-age romantic comedy and a kick-butt cybernetic tour de force.
In Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, things are not well in the land of Space Mountain. The operations of Disney World, in this glimpse into the near future, are administered by “ad-hocs”, volunteer groups devoted to retaining the old-fashioned charms of the amusement park in a society that has otherwise undergone radical change. Now that you can back up the contents of your brain and download it into a fresh clone, death has become obsolete. And rather than acquiring wealth, people are concerned with earning Whuffie, a measure of good will and admiration among your fellow immortals.
As one of the people in charge of the theme park’s Haunted Mansion, Jules has no shortage of Whuffie. While he’s delighted with his job and his perky girlfriend Lil, he’s increasingly suspicious of the ambitious ad-hoc that’s just revamped the Hall of Presidents. “Ad hoc?” Jules grumbles at one point. “Hell, call them what they were: an army.” After Jules is “killed”—for the fourth time in the hundred years he’s been around—he realises that the Haunted Mansion is under threat, along with the rest of his beloved Magic Kingdom.
It’s the sort of wild, tech-savvy premise a reader might expect from someone with Doctorow’s CV—among other things, he’s one of the editors of the popular Weblog Boing Boing and a 2000 Hugo Award winner for best new writer. Doctorow, a Toronto native who now lives in San Francisco, makes savvy references to recent SF landmarks such as Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and Snow Crash, and fans of Carl Hiaasen may be reminded of the amusement-park warfare in Native Tongue and the anti-Mickey bile of Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World. But what Doctorow’s first novel lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in terms of exuberance and appeal. The action is funny and swiftly paced as the increasingly unhinged Jules tries to discover the identity of his “murderer” and protect the Haunted Mansion. Along the way, Doctorow reconfigures society in a dazzling variety of ways and creates a future that he can call his own. —Jason Anderson, Amazon.ca