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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom Hardcover – February 1, 2003

3.7 out of 5 stars 130 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Welcome to Bitchun society, where all today's commonplace problems have been solved: even death is a minor inconvenience, since one can make regular backups. Our hero has gone to Disneyland--his habit at times of major personal crisis--where he works for the ad-hocracy that runs the Haunted Mansion and the Hall of Presidents. It is a great honor to be working on the pinnacle of late-twentieth-century cultural and artistic achievement--Disneyland, that would be--and it inspires great loyalty. Our man begins feeling the pressure of change, however, after a cookie-cutter teenybopper shoots him dead for apparently no reason at all. Convinced that a new ad-hocracy on the block used his death to take over the Hall of Presidents, he vows to sabotage their plans and protect the sanctity of the Haunted Mansion. Thus begins a cycle of destruction and conflict with unexpected ramifications for the park--and his personal life. An excellent ride, entertaining and unpredictable. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (February 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765304368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765304360
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey P. Bezos on January 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Gillian Taylor: Don't tell me you don't use money in the 23rd Century.
Kirk: Well we don't.
-- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek may be a money-free universe, but they've always left blank the details of how scarce assets like a starship or a Picasso ... or the Haunted Mansion might get allocated.
In this fun, fast book, the clearly talented Cory Doctorow explores a full-on reputation economy. With the help of a sophisticated, real-time network, people accumulate and lose a reputation currency called "whuffie." The ideas are an incredibly rich playground, and the author doesn't make you suffer through flat characters or clunky prose to get to them. On the contrary, these are totally alive characters set in a deeply conjured world (which world is Disney World, a place you can feel the author's passion for). By the end, you'll know the characters well enough to be able to judge what impact this new world has -- or doesn't have -- on the fundamentals of human nature.
Cory Doctorow deserves much whuffie for this novel. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Science fiction, satire, dystopian fiction...if you enjoy slotting your reading into neat categories, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" probably isn't for you. However, if the idea of a fresh, wholly original take on all of these genres appeals to you, read on. "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is at its heart, and amalgam; an amalgam of styles, of genres, of themes, and yet somehow author Cory Doctrow has managed to weave these disparate elements into a cohesive whole.

At its heart, this is the story of Julius, a post-modern man who is a centenarian living in Disney World. His is a world without scarcity or death, and as such, the dynamics of economies have changed radically. A person's rank in society is based upon their "whuffie", essentially the measure of their esteem within the breadth of the human population. While this meritocracy has certain appeals, it is still subject to the capriciousness of human nature, and as such, is still subject to many of the challenges of any of the systems the world currently enjoys (or doesn't). In particular, the need to use esteem in order to achieve capital means that non-stop consensus building plagues most aspects of life and diverts it into entirely unexpected directions.

Which brings us to the crux of Julius' dilemma, namely he has been killed to facilitate another "as hoc" seizing control of the Hall of Presidents, and now his new body is experiencing difficulties with it's internal computing capabilities and, worst of all, the Haunted Mansion may be the next ride to succumb. As Jules and his ad hoc fight to save the ride from losing it's 20th century charm, the pressure really begins to mount.

All this may sound absurd, but within the context of the story it works quite brilliantly.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Julius has finally realized his life long dream of living in Disney World. He finds his job with the Liberty Square ad hocs to be fun and his girlfriend Lil keeps him feeling young. When his best friend Dan shows up, he feels his life is complete. But then he's murdered. Granted, it's only his third death, which isn't bad for being over a hundred, but he still takes it rather personally. He's even more surprised when he finds out that Deb moved into the Hall of Presidents while he was out.
Deb is leading a group that is slowly bringing all the attractions into the modern era with new technology. Julius and his friends oppose this because they want to keep the park the way it was in the 20th century, technology, storylines, and all. Julius feels he should take a stand, but what can he do?
First, the bad. Maybe it's because I don't read that much science fiction, but I had a hard time with the jargon of this book. For the first 50 pages or so, I was really struggling to follow the new terms the characters were using when discussing their lives.
But once I got the lingo down, I couldn't put the book down. The story is interesting with quite a few twists and turns. All the characters were interesting and well developed, but I especially liked Julius. He was easy to care about, and I had to know what would happen to him next. I'm a huge Disney fan, so the back drop of Disney World certainly didn't hurt either. In fact, it made me want to visit the park even more.
Cory Doctorow is definitely an author to watch. He weaves a good yarn in an interesting vision of the future. I'm already looking forward to whatever he has up his sleeve next.
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Format: Hardcover
Although I've read a lot of science fiction over my 30-plus years, I've found that typically there's a mechanical process at the heart of it, ticking away plot points, waiting its time to spring into full deus ex machina glory. Meanwhile, romance is awkwardly introduced, and mindblowing ideas are thrown onto the page.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom suffers from none of these flaws, and will be easily regarded in the future -- that mythical time that never comes -- alongside works of Philip K. Dick, although Doctorow's prose never gets out of control or wound up the way Dick's does.
Down and Out isn't a future so much as our inevitable outcome given the current ideas of technology, religion, and consumerism. Nothing in the book seemed unfamiliar, no matter how exotic it was, probably because Doctorow rooted the book so firmly in the Disney Nightmare that is modern entertainment.
I've been backstage at Disneyland and have met some cast members and Imagineering designers, and so his description of that kind of taken to the logical extreme occupation of the magic kingdom by people who want to make it better -- rather than make money or who have property rights -- doesn't strike me as odd, and his insights into what makes rides tick should gain him entrance to the Imagineering world.
The story at the heart is compelling, and Doctorow engages in only a few Moby Dick like expository techniques to draw you into the world and then body slam you with a concrete instanciation. Death is dead, the future is before is, and the question he asks is, really, what the hell are we going to do with ourselves? Put on the hat with the rounded ears, obviously.
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