Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

The gloomy, cold rain reminds me that just a few weeks ago I was in sunny Menlo Park, hanging with my grandmother and eating salad. In Menlo, there is a sweet paperback bookstore that I always stop at during one of my many visiting-grandmother-walks. This place has a dollar bin with Kathy Acker and Emmanuel Carrere right in there with Anne Rice books!

Instead of being smart and buying a dollar bin book, I went deeper into the store and looked over the SF section. Mixed in with a wall of Asimovs, Brins, Cherryhs and other things I don’t read was Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. It had an inoffensive cover and I had been meaning to read something by Doctorow for a while. I paid my four American dollars plus CA tax and left.

I finished DOMG in a matter of hours. It is only 200 or so pages and the type in my edition was term paper huge. Once I got to the middle of this quickly paced story, I just wanted it to end.

DOMG is about a future world where people never die. Instead of living out the >100 years that we presently have and just dying already, the people in Doctorow’s book download their memories when convenient and have it uploaded to a clone whenever they feel old. Jules, the main character, has died a number of times. In his various lives he’s been married, divorced, fucked in space and drunk on Earth. He is also a bit of a sad sack. Jules’ lameness did not provide depth to his character as it seems to be suggested that such crappy decisions and circumstances, (and the shout out to Orwell’s hard luck memoir in the title), should. Not only is Jules flat, but so is every character, which made the breakneck speed of the plot even harder to take.

The whole Disney World thing left me cold as well. Maybe because I don’t like Disney World? No, even I could get into the idea of a society of “ad-hocs” that live in the theme park and care take centuries-old rides, living the meritocracy dream in sunny Florida. It’s just that though Doctorow brings up a zillion things to ponder (what kind of society would occur when there is no fear of death? What would living in space be like for an Earthling? How will idealism be expressed in a time without a future?), he doesn’t explore any of them deeply enough for it not to matter that his characters suck.

Also, the drug of choice among Doctorow’s futureinos, casually used like chewing gum, is crack.

DOMG is not a horrible book, merely an easily forgotten one. It was Doctorow’s first novel, so I want to give him another try and see if his later work delivers what all the ideas in DOMG promise.

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