Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is awesome

I can't really multitask my work, because pretty much all of my work-like obligations are either writing or reading, and neither are activities one can perform half-mindedly. What I can do, though, is multitask my leisure.

So last night, I (accidentally) stayed up all night, playing Minecraft (because the official edition just came out and I wanted to play with enchantments) and listening to the free audiobook of Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." 

There's a free audiobook of Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." 

Low-spoiler concept summary:  The book is set in the future, seems like one or two hundred years from now.  (If they gave a date, I missed it.) The setting is post-scarcity, scientific immortality has been achieved, and the economic system has been replaced with "Whuffie," a money-substitute that directly reflects one's social capitol -- good standing with other people.  This tech level and culture is collectively known as "The Bitchun Society." The book  follows the narrator, Julius, who's over 100 years old and grew up in the early years of the Bitchun Society.  It takes place mostly in Disney World.

Warning: Spoilers follow.  Skip to asterisks to skip light spoilers.

My favorite thing about the book is that the narrator, Julius, is not at the top of the setting.  Quite the opposite -- he's an emotionally irregular, somewhat damaged, impulsive and hard-to-like person within the Bitchun Society, and while he's talented enough to make occasional grabs at significant amounts of Whuffie, he tends to scrape by near the bottom.

Because of this, Doctorow manages to avoid making the advanced state and post-scarcity luxuries of the Bitchun Society look like a Utopian daydream.  This doesn't seem to have been the thrust of the message, but it remains true and important that no amount of freely available goods can completely eliminate emotional pain or dissonant personalities.

He also slips in philosophical discourse on the merits of the Bitchun Society in Julius's first-person narration, and in his conversations with his best friend, Dan.

Dan and Julius's relationship is deep and human, and the arc of the book shows both the usually high-Whuffie Dan at near rock-bottom, and the usually Whuffie-poor Julius way above his norm.  It's portrayed as at least a little abnormal in the Bitchun Society that their friendship consistently transcends consideration of each others' reputational poverty.  But they're both also very not-perfect, and while at times it begins to feel like we should be looking at one or the other as saintlike avatars of the Bitchun Society's highest ambitions, Doctorow consistently undercuts that appearance with acts of genuine, deeply flawed humanity.


In summary, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is an excellent example of optimistic futurism in Science Fiction without descending into cheap Utopianism.  The characters are genuinely human, and the book sticks to what matters -- human beings and their relationships and struggles -- while casually exploring a vision of the future.  It's a great book, in every way I can think of.

And it's free.