Fast, smart, fun and flashy: Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” (Tor, $22.95) is all of the above. Even when science fiction is based on solid predictions, it can demonstrate the pinwheeling pyrotechnics of a first-class fireworks display.
A longtime observer of life online, Doctorow depicts a cashless economy based on the constant, automatic tracking of public reputations by a nameless online utility. Referred to as “The Bitchun Society” (a la President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society”), the dominant lifestyle confers immortality (of a sort) on all participants. All one has to do is periodically record one’s brain patterns — to be imprinted on force-grown clones in the event of an unwanted death. (No charge for this service; there’s no charge for anything, as long as one maintains a high enough reputation.) It’s that trick that allows hero Jules to investigate his own murder.
In this future, Death is not necessarily fatal, but it’s annoying to lose the memory of a few days’ experiences. And in Jules’ absence, the Disney World “Hall of Presidents” ride he’s dedicated all his waking hours to preserving in an artistically pristine, mechanical state has been taken over by a group who ruined it with virtual bells and whistles.
That Doctorow is able to make readers understand and even sympathize with Jules’ far-out plight shows that he’s got as firm a grip on human verities as on the twists and turns a technologically driven society might take.