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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

by Cory Doctorow

Some novels waste no time in announcing their intentions. “I lived long enough to see the cure for death,” begins Julius, the narrator of Cory Doctorow’s amiable sci-fi satire, “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.”

It is the 22nd century; death has indeed been vanquished and energy is free. Money has been replaced by Whuffie, a constantly updated, publicly available measure of “your personal capital with your friends and neighbours,” your position on the respect stockmarket.

Julius, though more than 100 years old and on his third clone-body replacement, is trapped in perpetual adolescence. He drifts around, falling into hypersexual relationships with manic-depressive off-worlders, acquiring multiple doctorates (at the University of Toronto), and trying to maintain his enthusiasm for a society in which people can, if bored, simply “deadhead” (go into a state of suspended animation) for a few thousand years.

In Disney World, he gets caught up in a violent power grab by a ruthless “ad-hocracy” group that has taken over the Hall of the Presidents, and now has designs on the antiquated Haunted Mansion and perhaps all of Disney World. The novel recounts the seemingly doomed fight Julius organizes to save the Mansion and the link to the past it represents.

Doctorow, a Toronto expatriate living in San Francisco, piles on the ideas early in his first novel, but the way-cool cybergeek speculations start to feel a bit out of place in a plot that grows tired and thin. A brief flashback to Julius’s volatile relationship with a manic-depressive off-worlder suggests a darkness absent from the rest of the novel. As fun as it is to watch Doctorow play spot-the-future-fad, Down and Out in the Magic Kindgom lacks the weight of moral or political speculation (usually a genre specialty) that could have made the book more than merely a short, breezy read.