Review: Down and Out
October 8, 2011
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow is what happens when a classic geek extrapolates the cyberpunk future of a reputation-based economy combined with the extrusion of an open source ethos into the management of everyday affairs, tosses in immortality and lean project management, and sets it all in the context of the semi-religious experience of Disney World.
A well-crafted amusement park ride of the Disney-variety leads you through a thrilling story in a matter of minutes. The rider does not foresee the end of the ride; when it arrives, the rider disembarks enthused and ready to jump back into line. So it is with Down and Out; reading on the nook, where ignorance of page count is natural, I was stunned to look at the bottom of the screen and realize I was at the end. What a ride it had been! I wanted to exclaim out loud and rave about the book, but prudence restrained me from disturbing my fellow airline passengers.
I've been to Disney World twice in conscious memory, and I think once when too young to recall. Memories of Disney Land in the pre-K years also stir. That frequency outs me as a privileged middle class American. To those who haven't experienced Disney, I've been unsuccessful in explaining the awe and joy I still feel with respect to these parks. Explaining the mystique is like explaining Star Wars; those who didn't grow up with it rarely grok it. Doctorow's protagonist lets us in on one of the secrets: "The mark of a great ride is that it gets better the second time around, as the detail and flourishes start to impinge on your consciousness. The Mansion was full of little gimcracks and sly nods that snuck into your experience on each successive ride." In dialogue, in discourse, in contrasting experiences, the book makes a serious contribution to understanding the mythos without destroying it
Down and Out exudes love, joy, reverence for the cultural icon and the experience of Disney. And more importantly – for the condition of being human. The characters are not paragons of virtue; they are human; no, they are more-than-human: immortal, altered, freed of many of today's physical and social constraints. But still they are human: petty, ambitious, caring, loving. For all of Julius's failings, I cared about him, my fictional friend who has started to realize the failings of the society he has embraced.
The book is only 208 pages, so give it a shot. See the present and the future in a different light. Consider the implications of technology for humanity while having a heck of a ride. Stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best Sci Fi around. Buy it, check it out at a library, or download Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for free.