Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

From Academic Kids

Down And Out in the Magic Kingdom is a 2003 science fiction book, the first novel by Canadian author and digital-rights activist Cory Doctorow. Probably its most notable feature is the fact that, concurrent with its publication by Tor Books, the entire text of the novel was released under a Creative Commons license on Doctorow's website, allowing the whole text of the book to be read for free and distributed without his or his publisher's permission. This has not seemed to adversely affect the book's sales; it received mostly positive reviews and sold relatively well.



The book takes place in the 22nd century, mostly in Walt Disney World. Earth now lives under the "Bitchun Society", in which rejuvenation and body-enhancement have made death obsolete, material goods are no longer scarce, and everyone is granted basic rights that in our present age are mostly considered luxuries. This abundance has brought about the end of labor and money, and the only thing that makes one person worth more than anyone else is "Whuffie", a constantly updated rating that measures how much esteem and respect other people have for you. This rating system determines who gets the few scarce items, like the best housing, a table in a crowded restaurant, or a good place in a queue for a theme park attraction.

The narrator of the book, Jules, has fulfilled his childhood dream of living at Disney World, which, since corporations no longer exist, is now run by rival ad-hoc committees, each dedicated to providing the best experience to the park's visitors and competing for the Whuffie the guests offer. Jules has a girlfriend a century younger than himself (but outwardly the same age), and both of them work for the committee that oversees the Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square. When Jules is killed -- a minor annoyance, as he is revived in a new body within a few days with his memories intact -- he discovers that another ad-hoc group with a notoriously aggressive, high-Whuffie leader has taken control of the Hall of Presidents, and is going to replace its old-fashioned animatronic robots with high-tech, direct-neural imprinting. Jules believes that this rival committee engineered his temporary death in order to seize the Hall in the interim. Fearing that they will next try to revamp his favorite ride, The Haunted Mansion, he resolves to take a stand against the dehumanization of the park.


On February 12, 2004, Doctorow re-licensed his book. Under the new Creative Commons license, one can now make derivative works from the book without permission, provided the license and attribution is retained with each new work and the derivatives are not used commercially. Already, fans of the book have begun a Russian translation, an audio book version, and several amusing re-arrangements of the text. Doctorow is pleased that people are building on his work, and hopes that further innovations will follow.

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