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.