Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom


Cory Doctorow


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

October 25, 2004

octorow imagines a near future in which death has been defeated (the citizens have their consciousness scanned and stored at periodic intervals, when death or old age strike, they restore their consciousness to a younger, healthier cloned body). In this future, everything is available, and thus there is no more wealth. Your reputation - your "Whuffie" - determines your social status. Act admirably, and as your opinion soars in the eyes of your fellow citizens, you Whuffie score will increase. Whuffie scores are updated in real time, which you can check with heads up displays (this isn't really explained, but it seems to be visible to your eyes and no one elses. All citizen brains are hooked via "the interface" to a global net.)

Doctorow doesn't explain how any of this works (he calls this advanced civilization the "Bitchun Society"), and that is nice. The story is told in first person by Julius, who assumes that every knows about deadheading (turning off your consciousness for a while: either to zip through a short tedious plane fight, or to advance years into the future because you have grown so bored with the present society) and Whuffie and all - he tells his story, and you pick up on how the Bitchun Society works from context. No infodumps here!

This is the story of Julius and Lil his girlfriend (who, at 19, is only 15% of Julius' age - but of course, he is residing in a young version of his body and they look compatible) and of Julius' friend, Movin' On Dan. These three all live and work in the Magic Kingdom, they are part of the Haunted Mansion team. Their current goal in life is to improve the Haunted Mansion, while preserving as much of the original ride as possible. Visitors to the park who enjoy/admire the Haunted Mansion will increase the Whuffie of Julius and company. (There are a lot of people alive at this time, since no one every dies.) The villan is Debra - she takes over the Hall of Presidents, and replaces the ancient animatronic talking presidents with a "flash baked" barrage of sensations that download directly into your brain - Debra's idea allows you to experience the presidents like no one before, but it is the kind of experience you can get anywhere in the world, it totally wrecks the novelty of the Magic Kingdom, destroying what should be preserved. And now Julius suspects Debra has turned her attention on remaking the Haunted Mansion! How can she be stopped?

The novel is only 206 pages in the hardback edition I read, but I suspect that Doctorow had explored as much of the Bitchun Society as he was interested in, because the ending seems rushed and uninspired. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is sort of a character study of people in this utopian society, and after examining their behavior, I think Doctorow just didn't want to write any more and so ended it. Still, it is fun to see what Doctorow has imagined. I liked the short digression into Julius' past, where he describes a crazy woman Zed whom he meets and has a relationship with on a space station.

I will probably read more Doctorow books, Eastern Standard Tribe description on Amazon sounds intriguing. I think Kiln People (perhaps David Brin's best book?) is some what similar ground, with the idea of consciousness transferring to other bodies, and electronics hooked inside the head.