Essay by Ted Gioia

In his fanciful debut novel Down and Out in the Magic
Kingdom, author Cory Doctorow wastes no time in
shaking up your familiar coordinates.  In the opening
sentence, readers learn about the abolition of work and
a cure for death. Governments are also gone,
superseded by ad hoc arrangements known as (but, of
course!) adhocracies, sort of a
cross between mafia fiefdoms
and the
"mutual protection
associations" of philosopher
Robert Nozick.  Money has
been replaced by Whuffie—
think of it as a psychic credit
score, but based on getting
more props than disses from
your home boys. Meanwhile,
those who get tired of im-
mortality and adhocracy can
always sign up for a few cen-
turies of medically-induced
"deadheading"—no prescription required!    

But some things don’t change, namely your favorite

theme park rides.  

Our hero Jules may be more than one hundred years old,

but he is still young at heart—and has moved to Disney
World, where he is a member of the adhocracy that runs
Liberty Square and Tom Sawyer Island.  The group’s
leader is Jules's girlfriend Lil, who is only 15% his age,
but who’s counting?—and with her parents off
deadheading in Kissimmee, the two lovebirds are free
to enjoy romance in the happiest place on earth.  

But the Magic Kingdom becomes the menacing

kingdom when a rival adhocracy, run by the power-
hungry and tech-savvy Debra tries to encroach on Lil’s
turf.  Debra learned the ropes at the Beijing Disneyland,
where she rose to the top with ruthless reworkings of
time-honored rides.  Now she wants to shake up
Orlando, expanding her empire one attraction at a time.  
First she seizes the Hall of Presidents, where her flash-
baking of various Oval Office residents into the
cerebellum of visitors is a huge hit.  Now she has here
eyes set on the Haunted Mansion, currently controlled by
Lil’s adhocracy.

Jules is determined to block Debra’s various power

plays, but he is killed in a bloody shooting at the Tiki
Room in chapter three. But, in case you forgot, death
has taken John Donne's advice in Doctorow's future
world, and murder most foul is now murder merely
inconvenient. Yes, a direct hit with an exploding bullet
destroys most of our hero’s viscera in a grand Sam
Peckinpah moment. But in a flash, he is reconstructed
with the help of a clone and a download from the
memory backup…and is hopping mad over his brief,
unscheduled date with grim reaper.  The murderer got
away, but Jules is convinced that Debra is behind his
short-lived demise.

Does this sound zany enough for you? Different genres

battle for control over Down and Out in the Magic
Kingdom, and what starts out as a science fiction story
veers into a murder mystery (with the victim as
investigator—a new twist!), and finally morphs into a turf
battle akin to those celebrated in various gangster
movies. And any novel that ends with a showdown in a
haunted mansion inevitably reminds us of ghost stories
and horror tales. Meanwhile Doctorow populates his
novel with a host of secondary characters that add to the
pageantry.  Jules’s best buddy Keep-A-Movin’ Dan
would fit nicely into a cowboy story, and his ex-wife Zoya,
a spaced-out hippie girl with red fur, might be an exile
from Dr. Moreau’s island. The only constant in this book
is the furious forward motion of the story, and the
unpredictable turns it take along the way.

What the above summary may not make clear is this

author's light touch. Doctorow's prose avoids the banality
of so much genre fiction with its fanciful and colloquial
tone, daubed with touches of humor. And while his
peers reach for the stars—offering intergalactic wars,
dark empires of the universe, and slimy green aliens with
rad weapons—Doctorow is capable of channeling his
sense of the fantastic into the familiar icons and
mementos of current-day pop culture.

But the theme park itinerary presented here is not just a

collection of cheap thrills. Doctorow is always in control,
and never lets the theatrical elements in the story run
away with it.  Readers looking for a fun ride will definitely
get a star attraction, but there is much more here than a
quick buzz.  As Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
makes eminently clear, Cory Doctorow is the real deal, a
new millennium sci-fi writer with plenty to say and
Whuffie to spare.
conceptual
fiction
Down and Out in
the
Magic Kingdom

by Cory Doctorow
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/tedgioia

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal



Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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Ted Gioia on Twitter


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