Review of DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM by Cory Doctorow
Tor, December 2003
Jules takes his ad-hoc job at Disney World seriously. In fact, he takes it so seriously he's murdered and when he comes back (in the Bitchen society everyone comes back--from backup copies loaded into clones) an alternate ad-hoc has taken over the Hall of Presidents and is threatening to move on Jules's precious Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Unfortunately for Jules, all of his ideas for stopping Debra from changing the way the rides work to focus on direct brain manipulation.
Due to a (coincidental?) defect, Jules's new clone is unable to connect to the network, leaving him without the ability to create a new backup. The doctors suggest terminating immediately before he loses more memories, but Jules can't make himself give up so much--especially when he's got to fight to keep Debra from destroying even more. But everything Jules does seems to lead to more trouble--and to a dismaying decline in his Whuffie (reputation points--which in the Bichen society are pretty much used for everything).
Author Cory Doctorow (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Doctorow) is playing with some intriguing ideas here. If immortality is available, if material things can be created free, if danger can be ignored because death simply means restarting from the last save point, how will the world change? The idea that reputation will mean more than money is not too big a stretch--after all, already a reputation can be worth money. Doctorow also draws from the 1960s 'teach-in' movement when students took over classrooms and attempted to teach real and relevant material, extending this notion, with embellishments from the free software movement, to a complete future world.
So, how's it all work. Well, there's a lot of potential here. I would have liked to see a bit more about how society manages itself when everything is based on Whuffie. How do dirty jobs get done? Doctorow states that the zero-Whuffie group gets along fine, but would they? Or would high-Whuffie people perhaps hunt them down (for the betterment of society? Or maybe just for fun), since low-Whuffie-types are clearly not worth the resources (you can certainly take their property, of course in the Bitchen society, there is no property). The larger problem is that it's hard to really put yourself in Jules's place. He doesn't really have evidence about who killed him and doesn't bother looking for it. He engages in more and more eratic behavior--explained perhaps by the clone-defect but still hard to identify with. I wanted to see why Jules thought Dan was so wonderful, wanted to feel the loss when Lil threw him out, wanted to understand why we cared about her parents--living or dead-head.
DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM is an interesting and thought-provoking read. It's certainly readable and even interesting. Maybe it's my problem that I thought it could be so much more.
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