by Cory Doctorow



208pp/$22.95/February 2003

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
Cover by Jean Pierre Targete 

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Cory Doctorow has examined a world in the not to distant future and determined that the most fantastic place to be is Disney World.   Practically all Doctorow's action is set in the Magic Kingdom, a place which seems tame compared to the changes Doctorow has wrought in the world at large.  In this world, people are constantly jacked in to a world wide web and frequently download their memories and personalities, effectively giving themselves immortality.

Jules is the focus of Doctorow's book.  After his most recent death and revitalization, he decides to spend some time at Disney World, where he has fallen in love with Lil.  Lil is one of the people who keeps Disney running, specifically the Haunted Mansion.  The Disney Corporation has long ago abandoned their theme parks which are only kept running by rabid fans who join collectives responsible for caring for the different attractions.

It is the fact that fans run the attractions that forms the central conflict in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom as Lil and her group of traditionalists find themselves facing off against a team led by Debra, who wants to use the latest technology to improve the attractions in Liberty Square, starting with the Hall of Presidents.  While on the one hand there is a conflict between tradition and novelty in the face-off between these teams, the rivalry also introduces a theme of Luddism to the novel.

Throughout the book, Jules is an agent of consistency.  Even more than the longtime residents of Disney, like Lil, he dislikes changing or updating the attractions and even rails against the technology which governs life inside and outside the park.  When a glitch severs him for the web, a mixture of fear that his enemies will get the upper hand, and a general dislike for the technology keeps him from seeking to have the mistake fixed.

This isnít the only way Jules manages to sabotage himself throughout the course of the novel.  He almost seems to go out of his way to sabotage his life, from his attempts to stop Debra, which appear to outsiders to be attempts to destroy parts of Disney World, to his inability to make his relationships work, although in fact his relationship with Lil is destroyed as much by his friend Dan, as by his own actions.  Julesís own perception that only he knows what needs to be done in any given situation only makes his failures more pathetic.

One of the things that is clear is that for all of Julesís focus on the Magic Kingdom during the course of the novel, he had a life (or lives) prior to the book (he is nearly a century old when it begins).  He has made a reputation for himself as a composer, and his love of music, while not active during the novel, is clearly something he could return to if he manages to screw up at Disney too badly.  The fact that Disney is his primary concern, however, makes the reader feel that any other plan for his life is unthinkable.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is an enjoyable novel with several really interesting ideas.  Doctorowís world is clearly more complex than he needs to show in the confines of this narrow book while his characters are likable even as a sense of paranoia descends on them.

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

Purchase this book in paperback from Amazon Books.

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