Review:

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,
Booklist
Review:

Entertainment Weekly

What better place to fantasize about our troubling evolutionary path than Tomorrowland? Doctorow takes the scariest scientific advances — cloning, medical immortality, an inter-networked world in which social standing is based on eBay-style ratings — and sets them inside a Disney theme park. More specifically, these techno-possibilities are the backdrop for a battle over the Haunted Mansion. Members of the governing “Ad-hocracy” want to preserve the attraction’s animatronic innards, but a techno-populist team from Disneyland Beijing has developed a way to flash-bake experiences directly on visitors’ brains. The resulting tug-of-war leads to on-line insurrections, fan-led coups, and an assassination. The futuristic roller-coaster that is Down and Out travels is more fascinating than the murder-mystery at its core. Still, Doctorow’s debut is a sci-fi ride worth lining up for. A-

Noah Robischon
Entertainment Weekly
Review:

The Onion

Few science-fiction tropes have been done to death so thoroughly as the image of the future as an ultra-high-tech playground, in which human bodies are mutable, death is a temporary inconvenience, and the only remaining social problem is boredom. At its bleeding edge, America is halfway there already; it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to draw present technology out to a blue-sky conclusion. The imagination comes in predicting how technological evolution will change humanity, and in building a believable world that makes the future worth visiting. Cory Doctorow’s first novel, Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom, borrows freely from tropes established by pioneers like John Varley, Spider Robinson, and Robert Silverberg, and refined more recently by the likes of William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Rudy Rucker. But Kingdom establishes its individuality with smooth and practiced ease, drawing out a kinetic, immersive yarn that seems far more detailed than its scant 200 pages should permit. In Kingdom, “free energy” and scientific advances have rendered scarcity and poverty extinct. Near-universal computer networking has created a meritocracy which replaces money with “Whuffie,” a constantly shifting measure of societal esteem. As networked people interact, their computer implants tabulate their respect or contempt for each other; well-regarded individuals receive all the privileges of old-style wealth and fame, while unpopular people become pariahs, granted only the basics in food and shelter. Doctorow establishes his background in a few broad strokes before digging into the meat of his story: a series of machinations between two Whuffie-hungry groups vying for power in Disney World. Like everyone else in Doctorow’s capricious “ad-hocracy,” entertainers live by their popularity: By creating a successful and beloved theme ride, a group can bolster its reputation and gain power for its next social coup. Kingdom’s first-person narrator, Jules–a rejuvenated centenarian with the body of a 40-year-old and a fond fascination for Disney World–leads the charge to maintain the charm of the Haunted Mansion, preserving it from the neophilic organization replacing the Hall Of Presidents’ charming animatronics with virtual simulations and cortical downloads. Their battle is fought half in engineering, where new designs and plans are created, and half in the public eye and on the public net, where they struggle for the popular backing that will keep their rivals at bay. To Doctorow’s credit, their tiny war is as fascinating as it would be if it concerned a matter of actual importance. Kingdom expertly blends the peer-rating mania of current net-entities, from Slashdot to eBay, with current corporate strategies, hiding it all behind a colorful futuristic façade. Meanwhile, Jules puts a personal face on an impersonal world, as he struggles with technological failures, a suicidal friend, a painful love triangle, and an unknown rival who casually, publicly murders him. The result is a moderately prescient, wholly entertaining yarn that’s short enough to be read in a single sitting, and involving enough that it almost inevitably will be.

Tasha Robinson,
The Onion
Review:

SFWeekly

Doctorow aligns himself right from the get-go with an axis of serious jocularity, whose members are such folks as Rudy Rucker, Robert Sheckley, Matt Ruff, Jonathan Lethem and, at his loosest, Bruce Sterling. These authors spin off wild blue-sky ideas in rigorous profusion, as many as any recognizable hard SF author, but couch them in absurdist plots populated by eccentrics and oddballs. (It’s interesting, for instance, to compare Doctorow’s book with John Wright’s The Golden Age [2002]), which deals with many of the same issues of posthuman living, but ! in a sober, leaden tone.) Life is not to be taken too seriously in the works of these writers, and Doctorow has come up with a great objective correlative to this attitude, in the ability of his protagonists to spring back even from explosive bodily destruction, like Wile E. Coyote. (The downloading-into-clones motif was definitively established by John Varley 30 years ago, but even he did not employ it so blithely.)

In any case, what we have here is a rare example of post-Singularity fiction. The Singularity, or Spike, is deemed to be that moment at which mankind emerges into transhuman existence, with or without the help or hindrance of strong AI. (Doctorow eschews the AI, for the most part.) Envisioning such a future is one of the hardest tasks an SF writer can take on, but Doctorow proves himself equal to the challenge. His reorganization of society into ad-hocs craving Whuffie derives a lot from present-day cyber-culture (Slashdot, and all that), and his biomorphic mutability seems positively Extropian. But the exact mix is unique, especially when the fixation on Disney World as a kind of prototype for artificial landscapes is thrown in. And surely Jules’ jazzy first-person narration, laden with future jargon, is essential to the success of the tale. Although readers might initially balk a bit when encountering on the second page of the book a sentence such as “I took! a moment to conjure a HUD with his Whuffie score on it.”

Paul Di Filippo,
SF Weekly
Review:

Trashotron

But operating beneath this glossy, enjoyable surface is a very complicated world filled with intelligently conceived advances and retreats. From the contents of a 208 page book, one could excavate more than a few doctoral theses on various aspects of Doctorow’s Bitchun Society. For current computer geeks, Doctorow sprinkles his prose with just the right number of Unix-derived terms. For sociologists, Doctorow has constructed a fascinating society where the currency is the respect you receive from those who know you. For futurists, Doctorow has offered up a gleaming utopian vision utterly unlike those of other cyberpunk authors. For anybody who has ever had to backup or restore their computer’s files, he offers heaven itself. For all the simplicity and limpidity of the narrative, there’s a very complex stew of ideas bubbling just underneath Doctorow’s sunny story.

‘Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom’ is a novel of ideas. It shares more in common with the work of Stanislaw Lem than with William Gibson. Cheap laughs and deep thoughts jostle one another, having a swell time as the reader enjoys the painful revelations that await Jules. Doctorow covers a lot of conceptual ground in a small space, and he makes something that’s rather complex look ridiculously easy. But don’t try this at home kids. You may injure your brain. If you’re not backed up, then you might not be able to recover. We may think we’re bitchin’ — but we’re not Bitchun yet, not by a long shot.

Rick Kleffel,
Trashotron
Review:

SFRevu

After you’ve beaten death, disease and poverty where do you go to while away the hours? What can you do to fill up the value void left in the wake of abandoned humanism?

Cory Doctorow, a brilliant Canadian short story author with plenty of promise, sets forth his own answer in his first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kindgdom. You go to Disneyworld.

Brighter minds than mine will probably see Disneyworld as a metaphor for post-human reality. It’s a classic example of a group of humans finding meaning in going through the motions. Is the charade of characters and guests at mouseland any less real than the charade of walking around being “yourself”?

When we’ve opted for backups of our experiences that can be loaded into fast grown clones, when whatever you want can be poured out of a faucet for the asking, what’s left that we can find meaning in?

Ernest Lilley
SFRevu
Review:

Kathryn Lively

Who wouldn’t want to live in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, with no other responsibilities than to mind operations at the Haunted Mansion (Best. Ride. Ever.)? As it happens, our hero Jules is afforded this opportunity in near (?) future as part of the Bitchun Society, where death has been rendered obsolete, replaced by a memory storage process which requires everybody to be “online.” Live forever, download into a new body when necessary or whenever the mood strikes – imagine the Fountain of Youth as an FTP site.

Money is no object in the Bitchun Society, literally, as one’s wealth is determined by one’s ability to endear themselves to everybody else. By collecting points (known here as “Whuffie”), one is raised higher in the Bitchun Society’s caste system. As Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom opens, Jules’s Whuffie is modest enough to enjoy life tooling around Liberty Square. However, even in the land of the Mouse one has to watch out for rats.

Territorial wars are a-brewing, instigated when a faction of resident Mouseketeers decides to give the Hall of Presidents a cyber facelift. Jules, convinced that their leader was behind his most recent “death,” recruits girlfriend Lil and buddy Dan into rejuvenating the Mansion before control-freak Debra and her Hall “ad-hocracy” can get their hands on it. What begins as a proactive campaign to preserve the ride’s original charm, however, soon becomes a matter of pride for Jules which quickly threatens to destroy his relationships and his life. Soon there just doesn’t seem to be enough Whuffie to ease damage control.

With Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, author Doctorow creates a unique premise enhanced by a playful setting and witty dialogue. This is science fiction for the non sci-fi reader as well as for hardcore fans of the genre – think Carl Hiassen crossed with Phillip K. Dick…with just a dash of Disney magic.

Review:

Danny O’Brien

The novel takes a fast-paced gallop through a net-inspired utopia, where the only scarce commodity is your peer’s opinion of you, and where competitive acts of generosity are perpetrated by reputation-seeking gangs of marauding altruists. The novel represents such a pleasant ideal that you are happy to buy the hardback afterwards, if only as a physical memento of your online read.

Doctorow’s success must confuse the extremist wing of modern publishing, which constantly tells us how copies of works online are strangling new artists in the crib, while wrapping its own e-books and CDs in endless layers of copy protection.

If Magic Kingdom makes a mark, it will stand as proof that you do not have to treat your readers like suspected pirates to get what you want: a reputation, a living and an audience for your ideas.

Review:

Jeff Bezos

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.