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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow Even though I find him massively annoying in the way I always find professional bloggers annoying (read: if I am honest with myself, it probably has mostly to do with jealousy), I have to admit, I think it is pretty cool that Cory Doctorow gives away all of his books for free (the smug bastard). I listened to a surprisingly well-produced amateur audiobook of this one about a year ago (you can probably still grab it free from... wherever it was I found it. Podiobooks.com?) and even though I didn't love it, I do think of it from time to time, to the degree that I am considering foisting it upon my real world book club, because I think it would be really easy to find stuff to say about it. I mean, I want to talk about Battlestar Galactica and Tron too, but we should probably try to focus a little on the book.So anyway, as you might expect from someone who makes a living being adored on the internet, here Cory Doctorow has engineered a world where everyone is immortal (thanks to digital memory backups that can be downloaded into clone bodies) and connected to social networks all the time (literally, via implants in their brains and eyes!). If your society is going to eliminate death, you better well have all the other animal needs taken care of, and this one seems to: there is no hunger, pollution isn't an issue, and traditional concepts of wealth-through-accumulation-of-things are a thing of the past (note the book is unclear on whether this is the case everywhere; maybe, say, Ghana has been allowed to just quietly go about its business).Instead of money, status is determined through a true social currency: others' esteem, a system Doctorow has given the stupid but memorable name "whuffie." Like an extreme extension of re-tweets, you earn more whuffie if people look at you as an influencer, an innovator: someone worth knowing. Do something dumb and they can take their whuffie back. Like Homer says, in Doctorow's world, first you get the sugar, then you get the whuffie, then you get the women (note: I know this isn't really a Simpsons quote, shut up).So this is the interesting idea at the core of this book, which is really just an extended demonstration of the concept adorned with additional sci-fi ideas (digital immortality!) in a fun setting, namely (obviously) Disney World, where the rather unlikeable main character works as an "Imagineer," perfecting the "guest experience" of decades old theme park attractions while remaining slavishly faithful to their nostalgic qualities. This should be super fun for me, because I am a nerd who has read blogs (blogs!) about the development of Disney attractions. But even though the book is very short, I kind of got sick of it after a while. The characters are all pretty unlikeable (no whuffie from me!), and once the whole social/economic system has been thoroughly explained and explored, there's not a lot to go on, despite the effort to turn tweaks to The Haunted Mansion and the Hall of Presidents into a high-stakes political game (memo to Imagineers: The HOP is where people go to cool off; consider relaunching it as The Hall of Naps). I mean, there are multiple murders and it is still rather dull, mostly because they don't really factor (and Doctorow pretty much sidesteps the whole theological angle, though he's probably right that people wouldn't worry about that too much once they realized they could actually live forever -- I want to know what happens next too, after all).Still, it explores some fun ideas. And it's free and available for download now! I mean, so is everything else, but at least you don't have to steal this one.