Sunday, January 17, 2010

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow (4/5 stars)

I like the Magic Kingdom in Florida, having visited there a number of times in my life. When I saw this Science Fiction novel centering around Disney World, and even more specifically the Haunted Mansion, I had to give it a read. It was a good book with some interesting ideas. Definitely an adult read.

Jules is your typical citizen, he lives in a world that is not run by money but by Whuffie. Whuffie is a currency based on what people around you think about you and how much joy you bring them. If you have lots of Whuffie lots of people love you and you get lots of perks. In this future everyone can survive and gets the basics of food and shelter, but only Whuffie allows you to live in style. This is also an age where people back themselves up on computer, this is awesome because if something happens to your body then you can just upload yourself into a new clone whenever you least as long as your backup is up to date. Well, Jules is at a point in time where him and his girlfriend Lil are helping to keep the Hall of Presidents running in Liberty Square in Disney World. Suddenly Jules is murdered, not a huge deal, but when a top-notch computer ride designer uses the opportunity of his death to step in and redo the Hall of Presidents, Jules is out for blood. More specifically he has decided that he will protect the Haunted Mansion from this designer's clutches no matter what it takes and sets out to redesign the Haunted Mansion himself in a way that lets it stay true to its original form.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book. Doctorow has come up with an interesting society and a very creative way at looking at human aging. Things like the ability of humans to deadhead for a few centuries and then be reinserted into a new clone when the world becomes more interesting to them, are very creative and really bring this society alive for the reader. The whole Whuffie system is in itself also very creative and a pleasure to immerse oneself in. The fixation that Jules had with the Haunted Mansion was interesting and Doctorow's description of the ride dead-on. The twist the story takes at the end was fascinating and made for a good read. The story and writing style were easily readable.

As far as things I didn't like about the book there were a few. I didn't really like Jules as a character too much, neither did I like Lil. They were almost too human; neither of them really showed any heroic qualities. Also things like suicide and deadheading were taken in stride, which might bother some people, but makes sense in a society where people are centuries old. The novel is plagued by a lot of throwing scientific terms around that the reader doesn't understand in the beginning; this is resolved as the novel continues but is a bit frustrating at first. Also sometimes Jules takes diversions in the story that don't seem necessary (for instance in the part where he goes off talking about a marriage he had to this crazy lady with fur, it had some impact on the story but not enough to go on as long as it did). Lastly the problem of overpopulation of Earth (in a society where people are born but never die) was mentioned briefly in the beginning, but then was never dealt with as the story progressed.

While this novel isn't necessarily a fun read, it is an interesting read. I would recommend it if you are interested in the downfalls of a Utopian society, or if you are crazy about the Haunted Mansion, or if you just like reading about various future versions of Earth. A good book. I will definitely check out more of Doctorow's books in the future.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge
- Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

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