ReviewsWhat I like about Doctorow is that he possesses a skill few writers today, in an age when literary windbags are editorially indulged, possess: his tales are short, sweet, and get down to business. From the 50's to the late 70's, most of SF's finest talents were forced by market-driven publishing conventions to keep their books in the 175-to-225-page range. And while any artist would chafe against such creative restrictions, these writers took lemons and made lemonade, training themselves in the craft of storytelling efficiency. Even today I find myself consistently impressed by how well short novels from that period by the likes of Anderson and Silverberg and others hold up, and I see Cory Doctorow as a new talent who has studied well and learned some valuable lessons at that school. Hopefully other newcomers will get the message that you don't need 950 pages to get the job done.
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.
Single for Now Magazine
Doctorow doesn't undermine this adulation of Disney World with cheap irony. Rather, he presents it entirely on its own terms. The novel itself can't really be called ironic; instead, it is permeated by a deadpan, slightly creepy sense of effusive sincerity. The characters are all "twittering, Pollyannic" people. They display a sort of dampened affect: a distant, impersonal warmth, unburdened by any hint of anxiety, let alone tragedy. They "can't help but be friendly"; they have a "look of chirpy helpfulness at their instant disposal." Sometimes the older folks, who still remember the pre- Bitchun world of scarcity and work, complain that the younger generation lacks fire and passion. But this crit-icism is simply unintelligible to those who have grown up with the Bitchun Society, and spent their entire lives in Disney World.
The book is designed simply, with key relationships being established with an economy of words that leads to a reading experience that I found immensely refreshing, accomplishing in approximately two hundred pages what other novels take four hundred to do. I must be becoming used to reading doorstops as the mid-point climax hit me like the slap of an enraged fat woman, unexpected and full of reverberation.
SF Crows' Nest
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a short novel, only just clocking up two hundred pages. This is an entirely welcome thing at a time when twice that length seems to have become a bare minimum. It's quick and snappy, pared of all flab. It is not, though it has often been called it, a fun book. This perception is probably due to Doctorow's sprightly, bantering style. The story itself however is concerned with betrayal and mental breakdown. In this, Paul Di Filippo is right on the money when he identifies Doctorow as being aligned with the axis of serious jocularity (he could also have been describing himself.)
Cory Doctorow meshes all of these outlandish ideas into a novel of power and skill. His story is told on many levels, with a surprising complexity and the perfect touch of humor. Like all good science fiction, Doctorow tackles the issues of today, tomorrow. Morality, cloning, socialism, poverty, right to die, freedom of choice, pratfalls of hubris, and the cult of celebrity are all explored in what may be the best debut science-fiction novel since Neuromancer.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is not for everyone. If you prefer your literature linear or your ideas staid, then give this one a pass. Using the tropes of the genre to blaze a new path, it showcases the talents and skills that popular literature needs to survive and thrive in the 21st century.
While relatively short (my guess is that Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom clocks in at around 55,000 words), Doctorow packs a lot of action into this book. For those of you who are familiar with the technologies he describes, you'll find the early going familiar, easy reading. For those of you who aren't familiar with reputation capital or ad-hoc organizations, don't worry: the exposition is handled well enough that you'll understand everything in due course.
Technology and Society
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.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Doctorow's work is one of the main reasons I still read science fiction, so I looked forward to his first novel with great anticipation. The simple verdict? It's good. A fast, funny, smart, clever book which entertains so well that it's only upon reflection that its surprising sophistication and depths become evident.
Cory Doctorow is an avid Weblogger (he can be found at boingboing.net), and his novel's ad-hocracies of ''twittering Pollyannic castmembers'' who smoke ''decaf'' crack and congratulate one another on ''Bitchun'' ideas offer a knowing, gently satiric view of a once ascendant digital culture. And the impressively imagined world of the novel is tricked out in lively prose. In one particularly amusing section, Julius recalls an ex-wife from space named Zed: ''We met in orbit, where I'd gone to experience the famed low-gravity sybarites. Getting staggering drunk is not much fun at one gee, but at ten to the neg eight, it's a blast. You don't stagger, you bounce, and when you're bouncing in a sphere full of other bouncing, happy, boisterous naked people, things get deeply fun.'' Though she's around for only a few pages, Zed is one of Doctorow's best inventions, a ''transhuman . . . with a bewildering array of third-party enhancements: a vestigial tail, eyes that saw through most of the R.F. spectrum, her arms, her fur, dogleg reversible knee joints and a completely mechanical spine.'' Julius can't keep Zed's interest, and their relationship ends on a sad note -- she reverts to a backed-up version of her brain from the time before they met.
New York Times
Cory Doctorow is the most interesting new SF writer I’ve come across in years. He starts out at the point where older SF writers’ speculations end. It’s a distinct pleasure to give him some Whuffie.
Paperback ISBN: 076530953X