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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

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About once every ten years, a Science Fiction novel appears that redefines the art form. One that describes a world different from our own, but recognisably ours – extrapolated from current trends, but richly evocative of its difference, adding words to the language that needed to be coined. Books like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy,Snow Crash and now Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

What these books have in common are worlds that draw you in and make you believe in the technological underpinnings, accepting them implicitly and learning their terminology (TANSTAAFL, frood, Metaverse, Whuffie) as you go, while you follow the adventures of characters you come to care about.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom takes place in a utopian future, where death has lost its sting, as afterwards you can restore your consciousness from a backup, just like an adventure game. Corporations, Governments and money have disappeared, replaced by Ad-hocracies and Whuffie, a distributed reputation system.

Julius is enjoying his 3rd adult life, working in Disney World with his girlfriend Lil, 15 percent of his age, maintaining the attractions for the public to appreciate, when his old friend Dan turns up…

I can’t summarize the plot, or evoke the atmosphere; you’ll need to read it yourself to do that – Cory’s skill at both is such that I don’t just know this future world, I also know my way around Disney World, despite never having visited Florida. Let me just quote a little:

On the walk to the Hall, Dan kept ringing my cochlea and I kept sending him straight to voicemail. All the while, I kept up a patter of small-talk with him and Tim. I was determined to make up for my debacle in the Mansion with Tim, win him over.

Debra’s people were sitting around in the armchairs onstage, the animatronic presidents stacked in neat piles in the wings. Debra was sprawled in Lincoln’s armchair, her head cocked lazily, her legs extended before her. The Hall’s normal smells of ozone and cleanliness were overridden by sweat and machine-oil, the stink of an ad-hoc pulling an all-nighter. The Hall took fifteen years to research and execute, and a couple of days to tear down.
She was au-naturel, still wearing the face she’d been born with, albeit one that had been regenerated dozens of times after her deaths. It was patrician, waxy, long, with a nose that was made for staring down. She was at least as old as I was, though she was only apparent 22. I got the sense that she picked this age because it was one that afforded boundless reserves of energy.
She didn’t deign to rise as I approached, but she did nod languorously at me. The other ad-hocs had been split into little clusters, hunched over terminals. They all had the raccoon-eyed, sleep-deprived look of fanatics, even Debra, who managed to look lazy and excited simultaneously.
Did you have me killed? I wondered, staring at Debra. After all, she’d been killed dozens, if not hundreds of times. It might not be such a big deal for her.

As keen bloggers, you’ll already know Cory Doctorow as the ringleader of BoingBoing, where he exposes the contents of his outboard brain for your daily amusement and edification.

You may have read his appetite-whetting short story 0wnz0red, or seen the extracts from Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom already, but you should pre-order this book now, so you’ll have something to look forward to, both the novel and the future it portends.

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About Kevin Marks

  • Eric Olsen

    Great Kevin, thanks – something to look forward to.