Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" by Cory Doctorow [Review]

What would it be like to run Disney World after the Singularity?

"Down and Out" takes place in a future where humans have perfected rapid cloning technology and the ability to download and upload the human mind. Anyone can get rid of their old body and send their memories into new bodies, essentially getting rid of death and disease. With unlimited resources, money has also gone away, replacing the economy with a system of reputation-based points called Whuffie.

Yet people still need stimulation, and Disney World is still going strong, using the same animatronic technology developed hundreds of years earlier. Yet a new generation is taking over the park, pushing to replace the old rides with just dumping virtual memories of the experience into people's heads. Caught in the fight between the old and the new is Julius, a Disney World worker who's worked at the park for a century. When someone guns him down, Julius sets out to find out who killed him and why as well as sabotage the new team.

I'll be honest and say I never thought I'd see a science fiction novel or story set in a futuristic Disney World, and certainly never thought it would be any good. Yet the story peels back the happy veneer to show a world of people living and working in the park like residents of a small town who fight and love in dynamic ways. The struggle over control of the park is like "Game of Thrones" with roller coasters and an animatronic Abraham Lincoln.

Really, the story is about the conflict between the old and the new. Julius is old enough to remember life before the Singularity while his girlfriend only knows a world where replacing your body is easier than curing a cold. Just like Julius fights to keep the old rides, he also fights to keep from replacing his body with a new version.

One minor complaint I had is that the "whuffie" concept was underexplained when it should have been the center of the novel. Whuffie was presented as something like reputation points where people's opinion of you either took points away or gave you points. Someone well-liked or loved got a lot of points, and someone hated lost points. An interesting concept pushed to the background, and it's treated like money even though it's not. For instance, when Julius ran out of whuffie, not only couldn't he go home because he was locked out, but someone immediately stole his car, which made no sense to me. Why would not having whuffie mean his car was free to be taken? And if someone wanted his car, what stopped them from stealing it before he ran out of whuffie?

It's a story that's often touching and moving with raw emotion while also funny at times. It's also mind-bending with the ways society has changed in a world where everyone is online and reshaped their bodies at will. I never would have thought the novel would work, but I enjoyed it. I probably would have liked it more if I had any affection for Disney, but I don't. I think someone who really loved Disney would find this novel a dream come true, but I think anyone who enjoys journeys into new worlds can find something to love here.

"My name is Timothy McGill, and I'm a time travel addict..." Time Junkie, now available in paperback and ebook formats!

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