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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

4.3 27
by Cory Doctorow

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"He sparkles! He fizzes! He does backflips and breaks the furniture! Science fiction needs Cory Doctorow."
--Bruce Sterling, author of The Hacker Crackdown and Distraction

On The Skids In The Transhuman Future

Jules is a young man barely a century old. He's lived long enough to see the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn


"He sparkles! He fizzes! He does backflips and breaks the furniture! Science fiction needs Cory Doctorow."
--Bruce Sterling, author of The Hacker Crackdown and Distraction

On The Skids In The Transhuman Future

Jules is a young man barely a century old. He's lived long enough to see the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn ten languages and compose three symphonies...and to realize his boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World.

Disney World! The greatest artistic achievement of the long-ago twentieth century. Now in the keeping of a network of "ad-hocs" who keep the classic attractions running as they always have, enhanced with only the smallest high-tech touches.

Now, though, the "ad hocs" are under attack. A new group has taken over the Hall of the Presidents, and is replacing its venerable audioanimatronics with new, immersive direct-to-brain interfaces that give guests the illusion of being Washington, Lincoln, and all the others. For Jules, this is an attack on the artistic purity of Disney World itself.

Worse: it appears this new group has had Jules killed. This upsets him. (It's only his fourth death and revival, after all.) Now it's war....

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“He sparkles! He fizzes! He does backflips and breaks the furniture! Science fiction needs Cory Doctorow.” —Bruce Sterling, author of The Hacker Crackdown and Distraction

“This is science fiction for the non-SF reader as well as for hardcore fans of the genre--think Carl Hiassen crossed with Philip K. Dick, with just a dash of Disney magic” —Kathryn Lively, author of Saints Preserve Us

“In a world of affluence and immortality, the big battles will be fought over culture, not politics. That's the starting-point of Wired contributor Doctorow's daring novel.... Few challenges to copyright giants are as entertaining as this book.” —Wired

“Cory Doctorow is the most interesting new SF writer I've come across in years. He starts out at the point where older SF writers' speculations end.” —Rudy Rucker, author of Spaceland

“A kinetic, immersive yarn...wholly entertaining.” —The Onion AV Club

Publishers Weekly
A lot of ideas are packed into this short novel, but Doctorow's own best idea was setting his story in Disney World, where it's hard to tell whether technology serves dreams or vice versa. Jules, a relative youngster at more than a century old, is a contented citizen of the Bitchun Society that has filled Earth and near-space since shortage and death were overcome. People are free to do whatever they wish, since the only wealth is respect and since constant internal interface lets all monitor exactly how successful they are at being liked. What Jules wants to do is move to Disney World, join the ad-hoc crew that runs the park and fine-tune the Haunted Mansion ride to make it even more wonderful. When his prudently stored consciousness abruptly awakens in a cloned body, he learns that he was murdered; evidently he's in the way of somebody else's dreams. Jules first suspects, then becomes viciously obsessed by, the innovative group that has turned the Hall of Presidents into a virtual experience. In the conflict that follows, he loses his lover, his job, his respect-even his interface connection-but gains perspective that the other Bitchun citizens lack. Jules's narrative unfolds so smoothly that readers may forget that all this raging passion is over amusement park rides. Then they can ask what that shows about the novel's supposedly mature, liberated characters. Doctorow has served up a nicely understated dish: meringue laced with caffeine. (Feb. 14) Forecast: A blurb from Bruce Sterling, plus the author's connections in the cyber world (he co-founded the Internet search-engine company OpenCola.com), should give this one a lift. Doctorow was the winner of the 2000 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In a postdeath, postwork world in the late twenty-first century, where everyone is wired to the 'Net, the only currency is Whuffie, or personal popularity. Julius has plenty of it; after all, he is on the inside track at the Haunted Mansion thanks to the fact that his girlfriend, Lil, was born and raised at Disney World, now run by volunteers. Julius has friends, Lil, and the admiration of the Disney World guests-his Whuffie needs no help. Then he finds himself murdered, which "sucks," as Julius sees it. "It was the first time I'd been murdered but I didn't need to be all drama queen about it," he says, hating his tendency toward self-pity. Fortunately, he has just made a backup, so he does not lose any memory when he gets revived. Who would do such a thing to him? Signs point to Debra, who wants to reengineer the Hall of Presidents, dispensing with the old audioanimatronics and imprinting the presidents' experiences directly onto visitors' brains. Julius fears she will turn to the Haunted Mansion next, so the race is on for control of Disney World-just as Julius finds himself going sporadically, inexplicably, off-line, as his relationship with Lil crumbles and his Whuffie plummets. Fans of M. T. Anderson's Feed (Candlewick, 2002/VOYA December 2002) will like this fast-paced story. In both books, the narrator uses a jargon-filled, humorous slang that masks serious philosophical questions. The stakes-the nature of Disney World's rides-are not high enough, however, to inspire the emotions Doctorow wants readers to feel. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult).2003, Tor, 208p,
— Rebecca Barnhouse
Library Journal
A young man barely 100 years old, Jules is working at his dream job, running the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World (along with a bureaucracy of hundreds) when he is killed for the fourth time. He suspects a competing group at Disney that has designs on the Hall of Presidents. With the help of two friends, Jules fights the impending coup but struggles more with his relationships in an era when people routinely store their memories for centuries to avoid boredom or unpleasantness. Doctorow has created a fun, breezy read that belies the darker apects of a world without money, illness, or death. Much near-future sf suggests that technology will ruin our lives; Doctorow adds a little Disney cheer to his dystopian vision. Doctorow won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and coedits the popular Boing Boing weblog, which may translate into demand. A good purchase for all sf collections.-Devon Thomas, Hass MS&L, Ann Arbor, MI Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Walt Disney's vice-like grip on the American imagination continues unabated, even many long years into the future when one might hope that people would know better. Cyber culture maven and first-novelist Doctorow (no relation to E.L.) sets his perky little dystopia in a future world where the regular old society of today has been taken over by the Bitchun (pronounced, one would imagine, "Bitchin' ") Society. In the Bitchun world, everyone is wired within an inch of their lives and their personalities are backed up several times a year so that if their current body dies, a cloned one is simply grown for them and programmed with their last backup. Further, everyone has a Whuffie score, a constantly updated log of how much respect is afforded to you by your peers (it's an insecure type of meritocracy). In this time of endless luxury, and a ridiculously endless buffet of life choices, Disney World remains a primary tourist attraction, and its most ardent supporter is clueless protagonist Jules, who works there with girlfriend Lil. When a new team of engineers plan to remake the old-school Disney attractions like the Hall of Presidents and the Haunted Mansion into virtual reality all-sensory assaults, Jules feels strangely protective. He's already died and been rebooted three times, so it's not that big a deal, but when Jules's competitors have him shot and killed, it's still irritating. Meanwhile, Jules is trying to help out his suicidal friend Greg and also wondering why he shouldn't just do like more and more of the bored population and simply deadhead-go intro cryogenic sleep until the world gets more interesting.

The language has pop and the ideas are launched from the page with plentyof fizz, but Doctorow ultimately hamstrings himself with a monumentally trivial storyline.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
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First Edition
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.48(d)

Read an Excerpt


My girlfriend was fifteen percent of my age, and I was old-fashioned enough that it bugged me. Her name was Lil, and she was second-generation Disney World, her parents being among the original ad-hocracy that took over the management of Liberty Square and Tom Sawyer Island. She was, quite literally, raised in Walt Disney World, and it showed.
It showed. She was neat and efficient in her every little thing, from her shining red hair to her careful accounting of each gear and cog in the animatronics that were in her charge. Her folks were in canopic jars in Kissimmee, deadheading for a few centuries.
On a muggy Wednesday, we dangled our feet over the edge of the Liberty Belle's riverboat pier, watching the listless Confederate flag over Fort Langhorn on Tom Sawyer Island by moonlight. The Magic Kingdom was all closed up and every last guest had been chased out the gate underneath the Main Street train station, and we were able to breathe a heavy sigh of relief, shuck parts of our costumes, and relax together while the cicadas sang.
I was more than a century old, but there was still a kind of magic in having my arm around the warm, fine shoulders of a girl by moonlight, hidden from the hustle of the cleaning teams by the turnstiles, breathing the warm, moist air. Lil plumped her head against my shoulder and gave me a butterfly kiss under my jaw.
"Her name was McGill," I sang, gently.
"But she called herself Lil," she sang, warm breath on my collarbones.
"And everyone knew her as Nancy," I sang.
I'd been startled to know that she knew the Beatles. They'd been old news in my youth, after all. But her parents had given her a thorough--if eclectic--education.
"Want to do a walk-through?" she asked. It was one of her favorite duties, exploring every inch of the rides in her care with the lights on, after the horde of tourists had gone. We both liked to see the underpinnings of the magic. Maybe that was why I kept picking at the relationship.
"I'm a little pooped. Let's sit a while longer, if you don't mind."
She heaved a dramatic sigh. "Oh, all right. Old man." She reached up and gently tweaked my nipple, and I gave a satisfying little jump. I think the age difference bothered her, too, though she teased me for letting it get to me.
"I think I'll be able to manage a totter through the Haunted Mansion, if you just give me a moment to rest my bursitis." I felt her smile against my shirt. She loved the Mansion; loved to turn on the ballroom ghosts and dance their waltz with them on the dusty floor, loved to try and stare down the marble busts in the library that followed your gaze as you passed.
I liked it too, but I really liked just sitting there with her, watching the water and the trees. I was just getting ready to go when I heard a soft ping inside my cochlea. "Damn," I said. "I've got a call."
"Tell them you're busy," she said.
"I will," I said, and answered the call subvocally. "Julius here."
"Hi, Julius. It's Dan. You got a minute?"
I knew a thousand Dans, but I recognized the voice immediately, though it'd been ten years since we last got drunk at the Gazoo together. I muted the subvocal and said, "Lil, I've got to take this. Do you mind?"
"Oh, no, not at all," she sarcased at me. She sat up and pulled out her crack pipe and lit up.
"Dan," I subvocalized, "long time no speak."
"Yeah, buddy, it sure has been," he said, and his voice cracked on a sob.
I turned and gave Lil such a look, she dropped her pipe. "How can I help?" she said, softly but swiftly. I waved her off and switched the phone to full-vocal mode. My voice sounded unnaturally loud in the cricket-punctuated calm.
"Where you at, Dan?" I asked.
"Down here, in Orlando. I'm stuck out on Pleasure Island."
"All right," I said. "Meet me at, uh, the Adventurer's Club, upstairs on the couch by the door. I'll be there in--" I shot a look at Lil, who knew the castmember-only roads better than I. She flashed ten fingers at me. "Ten minutes."
"OK," he said. "Sorry." He had his voice back under control. I switched off.
"What's up?" Lil asked.
"I'm not sure. An old friend is in town. He sounds like he's got a problem."
Lil pointed a finger at me and made a trigger-squeezing gesture. "There," she said. "I've just dumped the best route to Pleasure Island to your public directory. Keep me in the loop, okay?"
I set off for the utilidor entrance near the Hall of Presidents and booted down the stairs to the hum of the underground tunnel-system. I took the slidewalk to cast parking and zipped my little cart out to Pleasure Island.
• *
I found Dan sitting on the L-shaped couch underneath rows of faked-up trophy shots with humorous captions. Downstairs, castmembers were working the animatronic masks and idols, chattering with the guests.
Dan was apparent fifty-plus, a little paunchy and stubbled. He had raccoon-mask bags under his eyes and he slumped listlessly. As I approached, I pinged his Whuffie and was startled to see that it had dropped to nearly zero.
"Jesus," I said, as I sat down next to him. "You look like hell, Dan."
He nodded. "Appearances can be deceptive," he said. "But in this case, they're bang-on."
"You want to talk about it?" I asked.
"Somewhere else, huh? I hear they ring in the New Year every night at midnight; I think that'd be a little too much for me right now."
I led him out to my cart and cruised back to the place I shared with Lil, out in Kissimmee. He smoked eight cigarettes on the twenty minute ride, hammering one after another into his mouth, filling my runabout with stinging clouds. I kept glancing at him in the rear-view. He had his eyes closed, and in repose he looked dead. I could hardly believe that this was my vibrant action-hero pal of yore.
Surreptitiously, I called Lil's phone. "I'm bringing him home," I subvocalized. "He's in rough shape. Not sure what it's all about."
"I'll make up the couch," she said. "And get some coffee together. Love you."
"Back atcha, kid," I said.
As we approached the tacky little swaybacked ranch house, he opened his eyes. "You're a pal, Jules." I waved him off. "No, really. I tried to think of who I could call, and you were the only one. I've missed you, bud."
"Lil said she'd put some coffee on," I said. "You sound like you need it."
Lil was waiting on the sofa, a folded blanket and an extra pillow on the side table, a pot of coffee and some Disneyland Beijing mugs beside them. She stood and extended her hand. "I'm Lil," she said.
"Dan," he said. "It's a pleasure."
I knew she was pinging his Whuffie and I caught her look of surprised disapproval. Us oldsters who predate Whuffie know that it's important; but to the kids, it's the world. Someone without any is automatically suspect. I watched her recover quickly, smile, and surreptitiously wipe her hand on her jeans. "Coffee?" she said.
"Oh, yeah," Dan said, and slumped on the sofa.
She poured him a cup and set it on a coaster on the coffee table. "I'll let you boys catch up, then," she said, and started for the bedroom.
"No," Dan said. "Wait. If you don't mind. I think it'd help if I could talk to someone…younger, too."
She set her face in the look of chirpy helpfulness that all the second-gen castmembers have at their instant disposal, and settled into an armchair. She pulled out her pipe and lit a rock. I went through my crack period before she was born, just after they made it decaf, and I always felt old when I saw her and her friends light up. Dan surprised me by holding out a hand to her and taking the pipe. He toked heavily, then passed it back.
Dan closed his eyes again, then ground his fists into them, sipped his coffee. It was clear he was trying to figure out where to start.
"I believed that I was braver than I really am, is what it boils down to," he said.
"Who doesn't?" I said.
"I really thought I could do it. I knew that someday I'd run out of things to do, things to see. I knew that I'd finish some day. You remember, we used to argue about it. I swore I'd be done, and that would be the end of it. And now I am. There isn't a single place left on-world that isn't part of the Bitchun Society. There isn't a single thing left that I want any part of."
"So deadhead for a few centuries," I said. "Put the decision off."
"No!" he shouted, startling both of us. "I'm done. It's over."
"So do it," Lil said.
"I can't," he sobbed, and buried his face in his hands. He cried like a baby, in great, snoring sobs that shook his whole body. Lil went into the kitchen and got some tissue, and passed it to me. I sat alongside him and awkwardly patted his back.
"Jesus," he said, into his palms. "Jesus."
"Dan?" I said, quietly.
He sat up and took the tissue, wiped off his face and hands. "Thanks," he said. "I've tried to make a go of it, really I have. I've spent the last eight years in Istanbul, writing papers on my missions, about the communities. I did some followup studies, interviews. No one was interested. Not even me. I smoked a lot of hash. It didn't help. So, one morning I woke up and went to the bazaar and said good-bye to the friends I'd made there. Then I went to a pharmacy and had the man make me up a lethal injection. He wished me good luck and I went back to my rooms. I sat there with the hypo all afternoon, then I decided to sleep on it, and I got up the next morning and did it all over again. I looked inside myself, and I saw that I didn't have the guts. I just didn't have the guts. I've stared down the barrels of a hundred guns, had a thousand knives pressed up against my throat, but I didn't have the guts to press that button."
"You were too late," Lil said.
We both turned to look at her.
"You were a decade too late. Look at you. You're pathetic. If you killed yourself right now, you'd just be a washed-up loser who couldn't hack it. If you'd done it ten years earlier, you would've been going out on top--a champion, retiring permanently." She set her mug down with a harder-than-necessary clunk.
Sometimes, Lil and I are right on the same wave-length. Sometimes, it's like she's on a different planet. All I could do was sit there, horrified, and she was happy to discuss the timing of my pal's suicide.
But she was right. Dan nodded heavily, and I saw that he knew it, too.
"A day late and a dollar short," he sighed.
"Well, don't just sit there," she said. "You know what you've got to do."
"What?" I said, involuntarily irritated by her tone.
She looked at me like I was being deliberately stupid. "He's got to get back on top. Cleaned up, dried out, into some productive work. Get that Whuffie up, too. Then he can kill himself with dignity."
It was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. Dan, though, was cocking an eyebrow at her and thinking hard. "How old did you say you were?" he asked.
"Twenty-three," she said.
"Wish I'd had your smarts at twenty-three," he said, and heaved a sigh, straightening up. "Can I stay here while I get the job done?"
I looked askance at Lil, who considered for a moment, then nodded.
"Sure, pal, sure," I said. I clapped him on the shoulder. "You look beat."
"Beat doesn't begin to cover it," he said.
"Good night, then," I said.

Copyright © 2003 by Cory Doctorow

Meet the Author

Canadian-born Cory Doctorow is the author of the science fiction novels Eastern Standard Tribe; Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town; and Makers, as well as two short story collections. He is also the author of young adult novels including the New York Times bestselling Little Brother and For the Win. His novels and short stories have won him three Locus Awards and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He is co-editor of the popular blog BoingBoing, and has been named one of the Web's twenty-five "influencers" by Forbes Magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
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Great read for sci-fi lovers and Disney fans alike. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A futuristic piece with the backdrop of Disneyland! A better alternative to Catcher in the Rye.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the strangest books i have ever read, but i found that i absolutely loved it! The characters were well developed, and the story keeps you interestef until the end. A great reaf from Mr. Doctorow.
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The_Wolfie More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable romp through a post-dystopic world. Part "Snow Crash", part "Wetware", all zany fun.
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