Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

When I was a teenager I read a lot of Science Fiction.  I was very much into the "golden era" of SciFi and loved Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov.  The last SciFi book I remembered reading was "Neuromancer" by William Gibson and it was fantastic, but that was twenty years ago.  It recently hit me that perhaps I should give the genre another chance but I wanted to read something current.  I assumed there were new and exciting Science Fiction writers out there but who were they?

I did a little research and discovered that indeed there is a whole new generation of current SciFi authors who are writing fantastic stuff.  Connie Willis, China Mieville, Paolo Bacigalupi, Robert Charles Wilson, and Neil Gaiman are all current authors who are considered some of the top SciFi writers of today.  One name, Cory Doctorow, caught my eye however because I had read some of his technology articles in various magazines.  I had known him from his work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Creative Commons.  I had no idea he was also known for writing Science Fiction.  "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" got fantastic reviews so I thought I would give it a try.  I was so happy that I did.

"Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is a great Science Fiction novel.  Like most great SciFi novels his ideas about the future and how technology will be used is amazing, but the story itself is also very interesting and gripping.  What also made it interesting for me is the setting for most of the story, Disney World, and more specifically The Haunted Mansion.  I've been to both Disney World and Disney Land and in both places The Haunted Mansion was perhaps my favorite ride.  It was fascinating to read a book that imagines what Disney World will be like in the future.

What I also found interesting about "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is this it is a very "current" SciFi book.  This book couldn't have been written 20 or 30 years ago.  It is a book written by someone who is very familiar with the technology of today and imagines where that technology will lead us in another couple of hundred years.  If you are not familiar with current concepts of Web 2.0 and social media you will simply not "get" a lot of the book.  In many ways the book itself is very cutting edge.

Then there is the plot itself.  In many ways this book is a good old fashioned "who done it" murder mystery.  The only difference being that in this world everyone can live forever so the main character spends most of the book trying to figure out who killed him.  If you die in an accidental death a doctor uses a cloned body and dumps your more recently downloaded set of your memories into the new body.  As long as you've been doing your backups in a timely way you'll be OK and come back alive with most of your memories.  But bad luck if you haven't done a backup in say, a year, because then you've lost any memory of what happened in the last year of you life.  (This ends up being a key "clue" in this murder mystery)  So remember to back up your data!  Sound familiar?

I think often people dismiss the Science Fiction genre as being nerdy or geeky or whatever.  But think of how many big budget films are based on Science Fiction novels?  I could easily see "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" being turned into an amazing film.  The story itself is so interesting that I think any number of readers would enjoy the book.  So if you're looking for something a little different and would like to check out one of the great new current Science Fiction writers check out "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom".

PS - Because Cory Doctorow published this book under the Creative Commons license it is available as a free digital download from Project Gutenberg.  You can download the eBook for free here.  Otherwise feel free to come into the Deerfield Public Library and check out our copy of the book.