Book: Down and out in the Magic Kingdom - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: Down and out in the Magic Kingdom
Thursday, 23 March 2006 at 10:08 pm
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Author: Cory Doctorow

Details: (c) 2003 Cory Doctorow; Pub 2003 Tor; ISBN 0-765-30953-X

Verdict: Down and out in the Magic Kingdom has a great setting but not much story.

Reasons for reading it / How it came into my hands: compilerbitch lent it to lethargic_man, and he gave it to me to return to her, whereupon she suggested that I should borrow it and read it myself.

Down and out in the Magic Kingdom is highly readable, and the world-building is extremely cool. Three quarters of the book is very nice scene setting, but then the story doesn't do anything with its initial premises, it just fizzles out. I very much enjoyed the portrait of an imagined future, both the general principles and the little details that make it plausible. OK, the starting conditions are immortality and free energy, which is a bit silly, but DaOitMK does interesting things with that premise. And it doesn't overwhelm with ideas, but rather makes the ideas part of the story. So it's a lot easier to digest than, say, Accelerando.

But it would almost be better if it were just presented as a slice of life in the late 21st century, rather than trying to hang all these ideas on a really weak plot. The murder mystery element doesn't work because all that happens is that Julius' initial hypothesis turns out to be right. And the betrayal storyline is resolved before it has a chance to have an impact.

Julius is not a very likeable viewpoint character, but does manage to be sufficiently engaging to carry the book. So all in all I enjoyed it, but I would like to read a worthwhile story in this setting, one with some real plot tension to explore the undoubtedly well-drawn world further. I'm also surprised that it was possible to publish anything that references Disney World as explicitly as this does; the Disney corporation are notorious for being absolutely anal about their intellectual property.


Whereaboooots: Post-singularity future
Moooood: contentcontent
Tuuuuune: Roots Manuva: Juggle tings proper
Discussion: 8 contributions | Contribute something
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coalescent: default
From:coalescent
Date:March 24th, 2006 10:50 am (UTC)
40 minutes after journal entry, 10:50 am (coalescent's time)
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I'm also surprised that it was possible to publish anything that references Disney World as explicitly as this does

To be fair, it is at least a bit less explicit than Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. :)
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:March 24th, 2006 10:59 am (UTC)
49 minutes after journal entry, 10:59 am (livredor's time)
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What? I am completely confused here. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is less explicit than itself? The book is less explicit than my post (I don't think it is, it mentions various Disney trademarks by name including Disney World itself)? Sorry if this is an in joke I'm not getting or something... would you mind explaining?
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coalescent: default
From:coalescent
Date:March 24th, 2006 11:49 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 11:49 am (coalescent's time)
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D'oh! Ignore me. I'd just been writing a sentence that included a mention of Doctorow's later novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, and clearly substituted that title into your review.

I didn't get much sleep last night. Sorry.
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pseudomonas: default
From:pseudomonas
Date:March 24th, 2006 11:35 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 11:35 am (pseudomonas's time)
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the Disney corporation are notorious for being absolutely anal about their intellectual property.

Cory Doctorow may well be making a point - he's very vocal on copyright issues.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:March 24th, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry, 02:54 pm (livredor's time)
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Oh, sure he's making a point. He's making plenty of rather obvious points about copyright. But he may well postulate a Utopian society where energy is free and everyone is committed to healthy competition and creativity, but that wouldn't prevent him from being sued in this actual imperfect society.
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lethargic_man: recent
From:lethargic_man
Date:March 24th, 2006 11:59 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 11:59 am (lethargic_man's time)
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Three quarters of the book is very nice scene setting, but then the story doesn't do anything with its initial premises, it just fizzles out. I very much enjoyed the portrait of an imagined future, both the general principles and the little details that make it plausible.

You thought? I didn't think so at all.

The murder mystery element doesn't work because all that happens is that Julius' initial hypothesis turns out to be right.

Well, it's not the only book in which there's an initial hypothesis which is rejected, and finally come back to after wandering all over the map (literally, in the case of one book I can think of).

And the betrayal storyline is resolved before it has a chance to have an impact.

This is true, I suppose.

OK, the starting conditions are immortality and free energy, which is a bit silly, but DaOitMK does interesting things with that premise.

The slight problem here, as it seemed to me, is that Doctorow prefers to focus on the human side of his future rather than the technological. Thus in other works we get broadly the same future, but with explanation as to how the switch from an economy of scarcity to one of free energy can come about. (Accelerando covers the points, though it's not the same kind of future.) D&OinMG, by contrast, kind of assumes the reader is familiar with this from elsewhere, and takes it for granted.

And it doesn't overwhelm with ideas, but rather makes the ideas part of the story. So it's a lot easier to digest than, say, Accelerando.

Pretty much everything is easier to digest than Accelerando. :o)

I'm also surprised that it was possible to publish anything that references Disney World as explicitly as this does

He does say at the start that the Disney World he portrays does not reflect the Disney World of today. It's also less cynical about the Walt Disney Corporada Corporation than Necroville (bah, don't have the quotation I'm after in my mail archive here).

Any idea where the term "Bitchun Society" might have come from? (I was scratching my head over "whuffie"; I'd worked out as far as that it was WFI where the "I" stood for "index", before I read on Wikipedia that Doctorow made the term up out of whole cloth.)
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:March 24th, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry, 03:03 pm (livredor's time)
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It's not plausible as in believable, it's plausible as in it feels solid and real, given its initial postulates. I can imagine people reacting like that, and society organizing itself along those lines, in the completely unbelievable scenario where nobody dies, suffers illness or goes without basic essentials. My point is that it's detailed enough to feel like a real world, not just a painted stage set, that's what I mean.

I think I'm probably more interested in reading about the human and sociological consequences of imagined technology, than reading about how said technology might actually work in detail. That's probably why the book worked for me. It's a sort of thought experiment, what if you didn't have to worry about death or scarcity. Or just a fun idea to play around with; I don't need to believe time travel is physically possible to enjoy a story about time travel, and in the same way I don't have to believe DaOitMK is a likely prediction of the next century in order to enjoy it.

I think the neologisms are just made up; Bitchun bothered me too. It might be connected with the slang term bitchin', but I think it's just a nonsense word. Which sort of makes sense in context, as it's coined by the kind of group who might make up words which are no more meaningful than things like Corus or Expedian or Accentura.
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lethargic_man: beardy
From:lethargic_man
Date:March 25th, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 07:50 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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Necroville (bah, don't have the quotation I'm after in my mail archive here).

Ah, here we go.
 The Second Thing we get with nanotech, Disney's PR department had crowed on the heels of Watson's Postulate on the nature of the First Thing, is dinosaurs.

   SEE the mighty diplodocus and brachiosaurus!
   GASP as real pterosaurs swoop overhead!
   WONDER at the ingredible stegosaurus, the amazing anatosaurus, the astonishing ankylosaurus!
   QUAKE WITH TERROR at the sound of the footstep of the terrible tyrannosaurs, the most fearsome predator ever to walk the earth! (All major currency cards accepted.)

The reality had been somewhat different.

   WATCH a triceratops tear up your garden from the comfort of your own living room.
   FLEE IN FEAR as an iguanadon smashes through your house at two o'clock in the morning.
   CRASH AND BURN as twelve tons of anatosaurus come lumbering up on to the Sherman Oaks feeder at peak time and piles them up twenty back along each lane.

[...]

The accumulated costs and settlements to claimants, who numbered into the thousands, fatally harpooned Disney Co. Tinkerbell folded up her wings and died. Nobody believed in fairies any more. New wings beat in the air above the hulk of Disneyland and roosted on the GRP ledges and arrêtes of the mock-Matterhorn.

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