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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 May 2017
I'm not quite sure where I picked up a recommendation for this book, but I'm glad I did as I've been able to add Cory Doctorow to my fairly short list of contemporary science fiction writers that I truly enjoy.

In this entertaining short novel, Doctorow takes on the classic SF question of 'What if?' for something that genuinely could come to pass - the no wage economy, where everyone gets the basics they need and it's up to them, through ad-hoc arrangements, to find ways to earn social credit to get more, should they want it. In a way, the social credit (known for unexplained reasons, unless I missed it, as Whuffie) is the equivalent of the rating system in the Black Mirror episode where everyone constantly rates everyone else. The other major change to society, which is far less likely to happen, is that when someone dies they are recreated from a clone which is imprinted with their backed up memory - so death becomes a minor irritation (unless you aren't entirely comfortable with a copy of yourself being a true replacement), while some choose to be put to sleep for thousands of years.

Our hero, Julius, ends up at Disney World, where he works with a group that help maintain and run a group of the attractions, in a period when some of the traditional attractions (the gem of his group's collection is the Haunted Mansion) are being replaced by direct brain access experiences. The main thread of the story follows Julius's attempts at guerrilla action to save his beloved ride in a world where social capital is everything.

On the whole the novel works well - Doctorow manages to be genuinely interesting about the challenges faced by a society where no work is required and lives are indefinite, while never getting into boring polemic. The storyline had some small issues for me, particularly when an outcome is flagged up very early - but I really enjoyed this book, which feels like the kind of thing Pohl and Kornbluth would be writing now if still around - no greater accolade - and I will certainly be trying more of Doctorow's output.
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on 19 February 2014
Good book. Enjoyed it however it's not long and more far future than his normal near future sci-fi. Well written and nicely paced but lacks some punch. Vastly better than most books though
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on 8 June 2017
Came quickly, an intriguing read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 February 2003
Julius has finally realized his life long dream of living in Disney World. He finds his job with the Liberty Square ad hocs to be fun and his girlfriend Lil keeps him feeling young. When his best friend Dan shows up, he feels his life is complete. But then he's murdered. Granted, it's only his third death, which isn't bad for being over a hundred, but he still takes it rather personally. He's even more surprised when he finds out that Deb moved into the Hall of Presidents while he was out.
Deb is leading a group that is slowly bringing all the attractions into the modern era with new technology. Julius and his friends oppose this because they want to keep the park the way it was in the 20th century, technology, storylines, and all. Julius feels he should take a stand, but what can he do?
First, the bad. Maybe it's because I don't read that much science fiction, but I had a hard time with the jargon of this book. For the first 50 pages or so, I was really struggling to follow the new terms the characters were using when discussing their lives.
But once I got the lingo down, I couldn't put the book down. The story is interesting with quite a few twists and turns. All the characters were interesting and well developed, but I especially liked Julius. He was easy to care about, and I had to know what would happen to him next. I'm a huge Disney fan, so the back drop of Disney World certainly didn't hurt either. In fact, it made me want to visit the park even more.
Cory Doctorow is definitely an author to watch. He weaves a good yarn in an interesting vision of the future. I'm already looking forward to whatever he has up his sleeve next.
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on 6 May 2004
I read the first 3 chapters of this book online, where the author and publisher have made it available free and legal!
After getting hooked into the world in the first three chapters I bought the book and Cory's other book of short stories. I flew through the pages and have just bought Eastern Standard Tribe!
If you live in the internet world then this book will strike a chord with you I am sure.
Great modern SciFi, great computer "geek" universe. And all based in Disneyland, fantastic!
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on 18 July 2010
First of all, thank you Cory Doctorow for making your books available under Creative Commons Licences, for free, on the web. Also, thank you Sony for the Reader - it makes reading free ebooks a pleasure.

That said, I will probably not buy a hard copy of this book. It isn't bad, don't get me wrong, but it did not stun or wow me. (Unlike Little Brother, of which I did not only buy one hard copy for myself after reading the free version, but various copies for schools out in the world, and which I tried hard to get my undergrads to read. I suppose that means the verdict is out on whether creative commons is a good way of promoting work - I think it is a good way for great work, but a bad way for middle of the range works...)

So, Down and Out... What is it about? It's set in a post-scarcity society. Nothing is scarce at all - unlimited energy, unlimited resources, unlimited lifespans (courtesy of a simple process whereby clones are made to order, and memories and minds transferred into them when the person dies - all people need to do is back up regularly). The internet / information is universally available, in people's minds at a thought's notice. People don't use phones or hardware - when they want to reach each other, they subvocally connect to the other's minds and hope they let them in.

Very well. No scarcity means no real economy - except, people have something a bit like a currency still: whuffie. It's their social standing, turned into a number. People check each other's whuffie to see whether the other person is worthwhile sticking around, or lower down the pecking order.

In that world, our hero lives in Disneyworld with his girlfriend, looking after some of the rides. An old friend from University and former missionary assimilating other societies into this one, Dan, comes into their lives, bereft of whuffie and friends (despite being a legendary, whuffie rich person decades ago), desperate, and wishing, but not quite brave enough to kill himself...

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom sounds like a dystopia. Or rather, like the kind of dystopia where everyone in it thinks it's a utopia. Even the title sounds like it has a hefty dose of cynicism in it. Unfortunately, the book does not quite deliver on that expectation. Perhaps it does, but too subtly. Perhaps it is not meant to be a dystopia, but a utopia without value judgement, a literarily more ambitious beast.

The main plotline is actually quite mellow - our hero is part of a group of people trying to protect an old fashioned way of doing theme park rides (especially the Haunted Mansion), while another competing group is trying to turn the rides into virtual, modern, in-people's-minds experiences. It's basically heritage versus high tech, Routemasters versus bendy buses but with Disneyworld rides. Early on, a murder occurs, but as we find out, murder is entirely reversible in this eutopia.

Perhaps the book's main problem is that it sets up expectations - with setting, title, and the murder - that don't really get delivered on. I spent most of the first half of the book waiting for a sinister, rotten core about this society to emerge. I spent a lot of time waiting for things to get larger than about a little bit of office politics amongst maintenance staff in a theme park. I spent a lot of the book expecting this to be a thriller, and not a book about someone slowly self-destructing due to an obsession with the past.

I spent a lot of the time reading a different book from the one that was on the paper, (or e-reader), if you know what I mean. It's a bit like a Banksy interpretatiojn of the Hay Wain, except in reverse. With Banksy, the eye sees something it is used to, then it is livened up by subversion. Here, the eye sees something subversive that then turns into a mellow country side painting. No wonder some strange people on the web think whuffie is a good idea and are building computer systems to allocate whuffie to web users (everyone on Twitter has their whuffie measured and published somewhere, even if they never even heard of it...)

On the whole, this is a book that is full of ideas. It just seems to be a little undecided about these ideas, unsure whether it likes or dreads them, and, while nobly allowing the reader to make up their own minds, the story becomes weaker and less captivating as a result.
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on 23 June 2004
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is not only a page turner, it's also a fascinating portrayal of how our social interactions will change in a digital world of plenty. When most commodities can be costlessly replicated, scarce resources like reputation, attention and skill acquire new value. This economy of regard has already taken hold in certain quarters of the internet, most famously in the world of open source software. Doctorow extends this structure to society at large and shows how an individual's fortunes can quickly rise and tumble with the fickle whims of the crowd. The challenges of affluence were never so apparent.
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on 23 June 2016
I guess I would – indeed I would get a bit merely by having read the book while my friends haven’t, and thereby knowing what whuffle is.
It’s a neat concept – in a world where absolute poverty has been eliminated, the environment has been sorted out, and nobody needs a paid job, what would serve as currency? Doctorow suggests it would be something like your reviewer ranking here on amazon, but extended to everything you do – do people “like” what you are doing with your life? A high whuffle ranking gets you into the best hotels, restaurants, theme parks. It sounds great – people would be effectively financially penalised for anti-social behaviour – a grumpy old man’s dream world!. But it could turn toxic as it does here, which makes sense – even in the present you see all too often that well-meaning voluntary organisations can be paralysed by ego-tripping board members.
The book is a little flawed, but it is an “important” read.
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on 2 November 2011
Recently discovered Cory Doctrow, really liked a couple but then find one a bit of a slog & not so good. This title was my next purchase made with some apprehension & I read it in 2 sittings - haven't done that for a while!

Cory is not cyberpunk, but is exploring possible Earth near futures with tech usually at the heart of the issues/changes/problems the characters face. This novel is quite old fashioned in that it's not a wordy tome, I was using it as light relief from the latest Peter Hamilton Trilogy.... Some modern readers may feel the background & character details are a bit sparse therefore, but it means the story shines, and some of the repercussions from the tech on human society/crime etc. Read, 'nuff said.
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on 26 October 2008
it's funny to think that a humanity which has freed itself of death, sickness, energy limitations, economical injustice, ends up worshipping the walk disney theme parks.
cory doctorow lays down some big huge solid foundations and then builds a rather light and self-ironic book on this foundations. but this is the geniality of it, this is how it escapes being obvious.
it has the taste of a new generation, of someone who has grown in another era, blogging, cyberspace, post-Gibson.
And it's his first book, so long live Cory and looking forward to catch up with all the stuff that i have lost so far.
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