Monday, August 24, 2009

Disney Fiction by Cory Doctorow

Wandering around the Disney blogs, I came across a link for a free download of Cory Doctorow's book, DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM, and after reading the blurb, proceeded to download it. Reading it in that format, however, was just too annoying, and since there was another book I was wanting to order from Amazon, I sorta packaged this one in and had enough to get the free shipping. So I bought it, and even though it was available on my hard disc for free, I feel it was money well spent.

The idea of a science fiction novel set in Disney World, or any Disney park, has always appealed to me. I try to write some fiction now and then, and have kicked around my own ideas for such a novel, but I never came up with a good enough premise. Now I don't need to. Doctorow has done it for me. I can't imagine a better tale in this setting.

Jules is a member of the Bitchun Society, a government and life system where death has been conquered, energy and resources have become plentiful and apparently inexhaustable, and wealth is measured by Whuffie instead of by how much money one has. (We're not told how this comes about, exactly. It's just the way things are. If this bothers you as the reader, that the background for how these things have come about is not really explained, the book might not read as well for you.)

Jules has, in this part of the story of his life, realized his childhood dream and he now lives in Disney World, part of the ad-hoc committee that keeps the Haunted Mansion running. It seems that somewhere along the line, the cast members and fans at Disney sort of took things over from the shareholders, throwing them out and putting Disney parks in the hands of those who love them the best.

Another ad-hoc committee, which has recently finished a refurbishment of Pirates of the Caribbean, has just taken over the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square, wresting control from Jules' own ad-hoc committee. Right before this happens, Jules is shot to death, and it appears that this new ad-hoc committee has something to do with it. They appear to be innocent, but in this age of clones, backups of one's mind, and no death being exactly "final", how would one really tell if they are responsible or not?

Jules becomes obsessed with the idea of protecting the Haunted Mansion from the new ad-hoc, which, it seems obvious, wants to spread their brand of rehab, which involves direct mental tie-ins to the guests. No more will the animatronics and the details have to come from the physical world; they can now be blasted directly into the minds of the guests. And it is a great experience...but one that Jules is determined to keep away from his beloved Haunted Mansion.

I don't want to give anyone the sense that this book is only about Disney. It's not. Disney World is, in my opinion, a major part of the book, but this is also a story about accomplishment, friendship, and the meaning of life, in a sense. With all of what we seem to value so highly today rendered almost meaningless, people in the Bitchun Society have to find different ways to make life interesting, to make it worthwhile. Jules strives to figure out, throughout his experiences after he's "killed", just what it is about life that still makes it worth living.

For me, this was a lightning-fast read, with engrossing characters and settings and plot. And one of the most interesting characters in the book was Disney World itself, as it might exist in a far flung future as a revered work of art as much as a simple fun place to go. I wish I could experience it again the way I did that first time.

Here's an interesting interview with Doctorow and a review of sorts of the book:
Cory Doctorow's Bitchun' World - P2P Gone Wild



Future Guy said...

I read a little bit of this book, but never finished it. The author did a good job creating a fully-realized future world where people have basically become Cylons. Maybe it takes place in the same universe as BSG-"All of this has happened before, and it will happen again".

Scott said...

It was hard to read on the computer for me. If I enlarged the print enough to be able to read it, the pages were hard to work with (up, down, up, down...) especially since my touchpad scroll isn't working. Then if I made the pages fit on one screen, it was way too I bought it instead. Easier to read that way.

I guess Doctorow is a WIRED contributor and a tech blogger. I'd heard of him but never read him.