dingbat

News

Introduction to Spanish edition of Down and Out

Here's the introduction Javier Candeira wrote for Tocando Fondo, the Spanish edition of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom -- Javier kindly sent me an English translation of the piece. I think it's just awesome (and awfully flattering!).

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). The opening line of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is fit for inclusion in one of those novel-opening-line antologies that kids are so crazy about nowadays. Like Gabriel Garc�a M�rquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude ("Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buend�a was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.") or Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."), Cory Doctorow starts off with a perfect pool shot: he considers the vantage point of his preferred audience members, he sets the balls on the table in an alegorical figure, he makes his main character the cue ball and, with a steady pulse, strikes him and sends him in the right direction, bouncing against the world and the rest of the characters, achieving his desired effect


The Cure for Death and the Death of Work (and Free Energy).

I lived long enough to see the cure for death; to see the rise of the
Bitchun Society, to learn ten languages; to compose three symphonies;
to realize my boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World; to
see the death of the workplace and of work.

Cory Doctorow, Tocando fondo

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). The
opening line of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is fit for inclusion
in one of those novel-opening-line antologies that kids are so crazy
about nowadays. Like Gabriel Garc�a M�rquez in One Hundred Years of
Solitude ("Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel
Aureliano Buend�a was to remember that distant afternoon when his
father took him to discover ice.") or Jane Austen in Pride and
Prejudice ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man
in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."), Cory
Doctorow starts off with a perfect pool shot: he considers the vantage
point of his preferred audience members, he sets the balls on the
table in an alegorical figure, he makes his main character the cue
ball and, with a steady pulse, strikes him and sends him in the right
direction, bouncing against the world and the rest of the characters,
achieving his desired effect.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). Science
fiction is full of densely packed lines which can completely fill
their reader's heads. This one has only 254 characters, including
spaces and the full stop, but it can contain a whole novel, maybe even
this one that the reader is holding now. Such a sentence expands in
its readers' minds, writing its effects in their imaginariums like an
algorithmic texture that was once compressed through a memetic
compiler: its expansion travels along the whole book like an
earthquake's aftershocks.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). One
shivers to think how James Michener would have written this same
novel, with his crowded cast of almost Nietzschean super-heros zooming
around the world in their private jets, meddling with the world's
health systems and fighting against dark reactionary forces to make
the Bitchun Society prevail over the old models, the old markests. It
would be some strange techno-political vaudeville play on a planetary
scale, in which the opening and closing of doors would be replaced by
chance meetings in airport lobbies, and beds by meeting tables in dark
and smoke-filled rooms where nefarious consipiracies take place. One
can almost imagine George Kennedy in a starring role, munching on a
cigar and shouting needlessly through his cochlear implant. Thanks
heaven Doctorow does not take his literary cues from Michener.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). It is
virtually impossible to read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom without
being reminded of Varley and The Ophiuchi Hotline. But Doctorow is
doubly pleased when his book is also compared with Pacific Edge, a
Californian Utopia where Kim Stanley Robinson describes the world
through a city planning conflict centered around the buiidling of a
baseball diamond. Both are fractal novels, and both reflect the
structure of the world through a small community, just as the fern is
reflected in each one of its leaves.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). Like all
good science fiction, Down and Out explores the social consequences of
technological change. Two descoveries like the cure for death and free
energy would be a true shock to the system, a power-surge in history,
an economic, political and social earthquake. However, the novel
appears to be a trivial account of one small oscilation of one of the
aftershock, an unimportant one at that. It takes a rare talent to
describe such a radical upheaval in the history of humanity through
the internal rivalry between members of a band of fanatics that is
renovating an amusement park, never mind that it is the most famous
amusement park in the world.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). The
revolution that Cory Doctorow describes would lead and organise
itself. Doctorow explains it in a very useful neologism culled from
Alvin Toffler that should join the ranks of mainstream words:
ad-hocracy. Ad-hocracy is the self-organising management of
voluntary-run projects, and it becomes the only possible system of
government in a world where scarcity is no longer, the basic needs are
covered, and nobody needs to work for money. Money, as Doctorow likes
to remind us, is just a symptom of poverty. When everything is
abundant, nothing has really a price, and nothing is valuable enough
to be exchanged for the only scarce commodity, the only valuable
"stuff", each person's daily hours. The economics of scarcity give way
to the economics of abundance.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). Doctorow
offers a new incentive model for his Bitchun Society: Whuffie points.
Whuffie is a complex accounting of the opinion that others have about
a person. It is transferrable, or rather contagious: if many people
hold a given writer or tradesperson in great esteem, the accumulated
Whuffie of those people will weight on the public reputation of said
person. This model is a world-scale projection of what reputation
means in closed society, a generalisation to all aspects of life of
eBay's feedback rating and Slasdot's karma reputation systems.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). In the
Bitchun Society, Whuffie is everything. Someone whithout Whuffie has a
guaranteed basic food and clothing allowance, and little more: it is
well suspicious that nobody will ever declare their admiration for
you, and even more so in a society of abundance where everyone has
leisure time to devote to social relationships. In a market society
money is obtained in exchange for scarce good and services; in the
Bitchun Society, where all essential commodities are provided by
automation, Whuffie is obtained in exchange for those values that
can't be automated: for creative output, for working well in others,
for friendship, for companionship, for personhood. In a reputation
economy, your character is your net worth.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). The rest
is the stuff as dreams and literature are made of. Human nature is
immutable, and the quarrels, passions, obsessions and delusions of
Jules, his friends and his rivals could take place anywhere. But they
take place in the Magic Kindom. By setting his novel in Disneyworld,
Doctorow alludes at the theme-park-isation of any abundant society, a
process whereby the world becomes a parody and an hommage to itself
that we can observe today just by strolling through central London,
Amsterdam, Barcelona. The present world is inequal, and if the Bitchun
society were to balance that inequality, one of the side effects would
be the making of the world into a global scale copy of a Disney
World.managed by anarchist collectives. Even acknowledging its faults,
more than 90% of the world would prefer living that "dystopia" to
living in any of the manifold "utopias" of the present. Even
acknowledging its virtues, 90% of its inhabitants would long for tan
idealised past -- a better, more heroic, more authentic one. Down and
Out is about the many debates between the original and the trite, the
new and the old, the safe and the risky. It is a chronicle of the
struggle between the forces of nostalgia and renewal, told by a man
from the future that does not realise the extent to which he is still
anchored to the past.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). One of the
constants in the history of human culture is the increase in material
comfort. This is a loaded statement, but it is intended without any
moral load. There are, however, many ways to manage material comfort,
and here Doctorow does offer us a moral. One of those management
strategies is the creation of a consumer society, in which the many
absorb what the few create. Another is to become a society of
creators, in which everybody creates so much that there is not enough
time to consume what others make. In Down and Out Doctorow shows us
what happens when a whole society decides to take the second road.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). Cory
Doctorow talks the talk, but he also walks the walk. He writes about
hackers and is a hacker himself. A techology hacker, but also a policy
hacker, a literary one (someone would even say a literary hack, but
allow me to disagree) and even a hacker of himself, of his own body
and mind. In BoingBoing, the weblog he co-edits, he explains about
using the Sarno technique to cure hs back pain, how he used hypnotism
to quit smoking, how he controls his weight (and his unmitigated love
of chocolate) through the Atkins dieat. One can easily imagine him
jostling for position at the beginning of the queue the day they start
handing out brain implants. He writes about blurring the line between
work and leisure, and has managed to make his hobbies into a source of
income: nowadays BoingBoing provides some of it, but he is also the
Embassador of the Electronic Frontier Foundation to Europe, and is
currently serialising in Salon.com what will be his fourth novel.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). Doctorow
also writes about the abundance of virtual and infinitely reproducible
goods, and walks the walk all the way to the bank: he has got his US
editor (Tor Books, an imprint of McMillan and one of the most
important science fiction publishers in the world) to publish him
under a Creative Commons license. All of Cory Doctorow's books carry a
license to copy with only a few restrictions: commercial use is not
allowed (Doctorow reserves that license to his publishers; he expects
to make some income off his writing), but he allows anyone to make
copies for non-commercial use, even publishing derivative works, if
the copies and derivatives carry the same license. This is the reason
why there are versions of his books for PDAs, a verse remix of lines
from the books, and even fan-made translations. One does not need to
imagine him at the frontlines of the Bitchun society because, for
better or worse, the Bitchun society he describes is composed of
imperfect copies of an idealised Cory Doctorow.

The cure for death and the death of work (and free energy). A
memorable aphorism by William Gibson says that "the future is already
here, only not uniformly distributed". Down and Out is a modest
equaliser, a dispenser of that future in the present, and at the same
time it is the account of a man's answer to The Only Question. That
question, of course, is "what to do?".

Javier Candeira, 81.35.224.209, October 2005

This essay was first published, in Spanish and in a slightly different
version, as the introduction to Tocando Fondo, the Spanish edition of
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and on barrapunto.com.


Leave a Reply

Creative Commons License

Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom is proudly powered by WordPress
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).