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The Magic Kingdom2.jpg

Cannonball Read III: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Corey Doctorow

By JarekMatthews | Books | February 23, 2011 |

By JarekMatthews | Books | February 23, 2011 |

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a book I’ve been reading about for quite a long time. Disneyland is only a 45 minute drive for me, so once I got past the crippling fear of damn near everything that crept its way into my childhood, I became a theme park addict, especially when the Happiest Place on Earth is the park in question. While Cory Doctorow’s work takes place in a nifty, futuristic Disney “World,” I was drawn to the concept all the same.

Basically, rival adhocracies control different attractions in the park, which has become virtually an entire city unto itself, competing for guests’ Whuffie. Whuffie is the only currency left in this world, a way to gauge esteem and respect from anyone and everyone you come in contact with (everyone is able to give equal Whuffie, no matter how “broke” they might be), and anybody’s Whuffie is accessible instantly via neural Internet connections, personal HUDs and such.

Our protagonist, Julius (or Jules), is sympathetic enough, but he gets a bit lost amidst all of the new (and admittedly wonderful) concepts introduced by Doctorow in this utopia. That last part is integral to enjoying the book; this is far from a dystopia, a sun-scorched wasteland like you might see in The Road Warrior or Waterworld. This is a place that might even be too cheery for old Walt himself, where the only feasible problem is too much of a good thing. Luxuries are in abundant supply, and as such aren’t quite as luxurious anymore. If somebody doesn’t quite like how things are in the world today, they can “deadhead” for a century or two, voluntarily putting themselves into a coma to be awoken at a specified time (death in this world is rendered obsolete via the ability to “backup” your mind like you would a hard drive, restoring it to a clone if you should happen to lose the body you’re in).

One of the most dynamic elements of the plot (and don’t worry, this isn’t really a spoiler) is that Jules spends much of the novel trying to solve his own murder. Alongside girlfriend Lil (approximately fifteen percent of his extremely old age) and best friend Dan (a rough-ridin’ former missionary who has lost the will to live), he reviews perspective upon perspective of the footage of his death, trying to figure out who might want him dead and why.

Doctorow has a firm grasp of the technology that populates what is known as the Bitchun Society, and we’re luckily spared any clunky exposition; if at first a concept is unclear, it’s not long before it is crystallized for us. At the heart of the book is, ironically, a recurring theme of resisting technology. Jules is horrified that Debra, one of his main rivals, wants to replace the classic attractions with Matrix-esque sims that “flash-bake” new experiences directly into its riders’ minds with each ride.

These characters are relatable enough and the landscapes fun enough for Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom to be a completely immersive experience, if a relatively brief one. Love, loyalty and child-like optimism still exist in the exact same forms centuries from now, an altogether refreshing notion.

For more of JarekMatthews reviews, check out his blog, I Suplex People.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

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