Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
© 2003 Cory Doctorow
In the not-very-distant future, death is an inconvenience, and material goods are no longer scarce. Instead, the currency of society is reputation, and Jules needs all of his reserves to get through the next year of his life. The trouble began when he was shot dead at Disney World. A brain backup was soon downloaded into a freshly-grown clone, and soon he was back in business keeping the old Disney World — an artifact from the distant past, run by volunteers who loved the primitive animatronics –in working order. Something had changed in the brief blip of time he spent unconscious, however: a group of fellow “adhocs” running Disney World decided to inflict change on the Hall of Presidents, and they could only be after the Haunted Mansion next. Jules is desperate to hold back the tide, but in the months to come he will be alienated from his closest friends and find himself strapped to a medical gurney, unable to speak.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was Cory Doctorow’s first novel, and I read it purely for the author. DisneyWorld has no attraction for me, and that disinterest meant that I didn’t actually care what happened in the novel. Most interesting for me were elements of Doctorow’s worldbuilding. In his future, mental states can be downloaded into computers, and people make backups of themselves frequently. This is not just a precaution against death; people can effectively erase negative periods of their lives by reverting to an earlier version of themselves. Bioengineering extends to custom clones, as teenage girls sport trendy faces, and musicians use augmented bodies (pianists with long fingers) that help them in their craft. There’s also a neural interface that allows people to interact with society’s digital layer merely with their heads; one of the first things people do when encountering friends or strangers is to glance at their “Whuffie”, the reputation system that functions as society’s currency. (“Whuffie” is like reddit karma, but you can buy stuff with it. The Orrville had an episode where the crew visits a planet with this kind of currency. Brief clip here.)
Fans of DisneyWorld may find this far more appealing than I did. His later novels have captivated me in a way that this one didn’t even begin to.