Townhouse Books

Monday, October 23, 2006

Semi-live Book Discussion: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

We are discussing this book from the morning of Monday, Oct. 23 through the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 24. Please post your thoughts on the book in the comments section. Check back and post responses frequently over these two days.


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  • Finally! A book where it's the future and everything doesn't suck on a grand scale!

    I thought it was just okay. I was enamoured with the premise of the book and loved some of the futuristic ideas. However, I was disappointed with Doctorow's writing style, which I found rather dull. Maybe it was because I read it very quickly but there were times I was confused as to what was happening even though the writing was pretty straightforward. I blame my confusion on the author's failure to really weave the story together. I guess I wanted something meatier.

    I loved the idea of whuffie and would definitely like to download my consciousness in case something happened to me. If the future happens soon, I am so living in Disney.

    I think Doctorow did a good job of making the timeline for the book ambiguously in the future.

    What is the bitchun society anyway? Did he ever really explain it? A little bit more understanding of what occurred to change society would have been nice.

    My comments must be taken in context though... I have been reading fantasy series non-stop for several years now and what I love about them is that the authors always give you a good feel for the world in which the characters exist. I felt I got some of this in Magic Kingdom but craved more, particularly since I liked the ideas.

    More to come...

    By LPD, at 11:54 AM  

  • Thanks, Lauren, for the first post!

    I can't read much science fiction/fantasy anymore unless it's really well written. (See my previous posting on the "Winterlong" book for an Elizabeth Hand [crap] and Margaret Atwood [great] comparison.) I find I'm unable to focus on the story and be properly transported to another time and place when I'm noticing poor sentence structure or predictable ideas.

    This is a great first sentence of a paragraph: "The first time I died..." It started to explain what's going on and succeeded in sucking me in for a while.

    This is an awful first sentence of the first chapter for a book that's supposed to show me a different world: "My girlfriend was 15 percent of my age, and I was old-fashioned enough that it bugged me." Doctorow immediately demonstrated that although he's trying for the future, his book is going to be stuck hopelessly in other bad books he's read and in his current culture.

    Another example:
    “Why did you want to [kill yourself] before?” I asked.
    “Oh, it was the macho thing, I guess."

    He should have been able to come up with something better that didn't include something as dated as "macho thing/"

    Doctorow needed an editor to help him remove these blatant weaknesses, which would let his story be what stands out.

    Too often, sentences just fell flat, as though I were reading Cory's quickly written emails to a friend. The text could have used a few more reads and revisions.

    Even in the prologue - "He spun a fascinating yarn then, how he slowly gained the acceptance of the mountain-dwellers..." I think I might have benefited from this story too, but I feel like Doctorow was rushing to get to his main story. Show us, Cory, don't tell us.

    I also noticed his mild obsession with red hair. Predictable. Why do so many fantasy/SF writers have such a thing for red hair? I'm certain he wanted to say "flaming red hair" first.

    Examples about Lil's hair, over only a few pages:
    shining red hair (p. 11)
    bent over, her red hair tied back in a neat bun (p. 14)
    sweet red curls (p. 16)
    face was limned with hairs that had snuck loose of her ponytail (p. 17)

    Last thing -- novels like this shouldn't use exclamation points outside of dialogue. Just one example, toward the end: "No romance—not for me, thanks!" (p. 67) That should have been caught in a revision.

    So there's my opinion. Doctorow may truly have had a good story buried in there, but he needed some patience and some help to tighten his manuscript to let the story shine through.

    By evt1618, at 12:12 PM  

  • I'm with you guys on the good premise, disappointing writing.

    Here's a question -- is this what we have to look forward to in the future? Doctorow is a big blogger, the book is available for online download... Is this 'fast, cheap, and out of control' literature? All he's done here is come up with an interesting premise, sketch out the story, and hope people will fill in the blanks to their own satisfaction. It's good enough for fanfic, but as our traditional media fragments is this what we'll be stuck with?

    By Anna, at 1:50 PM  

  • Well, I have an obsession with red hair. I do not, however, try to sell my writing for money.

    I was nodding in agreement with everyone so far. Interesting ideas, but the writing didn't 100% reel me in. I'm glad Emily posted the "first time I died" quote, though, because there definitely were sentences that did grab me. Is that why I was mildly irritated? Because I felt like Doctorow had some real gem-like prose scattered in amongst somewhat bland storytelling?

    In other words, I'm seeing hints of a really great writer. But not sustained. (I say as someone who can't even really sustain a long email conversation.)

    I was also really, really irritated by a throwaway Stephenson reference. One of the bands that makes a brief appearance in the story has a lead singer by the name of "Hiro Protagonist". Maybe it's just me, but 9 times out of 10 when novels name-check other novels... it only serves to irritate me.

    So... my take on "bitchun" (and hopefully I'm wrong about the name's provenance, 'cause it's a little silly) is that it's a post-MMORPG society where ad-hoc committees (read: EverQuest raiding parties) form and re-form based on task-related goals rather than social strata. And the term comes from gamer d00d-speak. Or something. Whuffie is a social outgrowth of both MMORPG experience points and online community "rate this seller" totals. Or something.

    But I haven't really found a nice definition of the Bitchun Society yet. There was this one good quote from by Richard Koman in an O'Reilly review:

    "In a world without scarcity, the intangible things that are scarce become all the more valuable. In the world of the "Bitchun' Society," what's scarce is esteem, called Whuffie. For content, we should already be living in the world of the Bitchun Society--any digital file can be copied endlessly without degradation."

    So as an alternative economy, based around efficacy and societal value... sure. Sounds great. I would have liked to have seen a lot more on Whuffie as an economy, implications for nations and international relations, scientific R&D, and so on.

    And for right now, I'm ignoring Anna's post, since it might be true and it makes me sad.

    By lillygog, at 5:20 PM  

  • I enjoyed the tinkering with Disney rides to make them more enjoyable, but I quickly got sick of the main characters nannering about. I understand not wanting to reboot, and end up losing some memories. But... he screwed up in the first place trynig to sabotage what sounded like a decent ride. So whatever.

    I did prefer the proposed enhancements to the haunted house vs. the flashbaking in the Hall of Presidents. It sounds like what is happening on the web (users collaborating to make a richer experience) but in the real world.

    Space Scenes... Why?. Don't care..
    I think he just wanted to strecth his legs in the world he was creating.

    Personally I prefer Richard Morgan's ideas about saving consciousness and resleeving it to simuolate immortality.

    That being said. I do enjoy the concept of "whuffie". Today in a session with one of the developers of Flock (sociql browser based on Firefox code) someone in the audience asked about creating a reputation system. The question didn't get answered, but it shows that these kind of things are being bandied about in the real world.

    that is enough for now. Heroes is about to start.

    By Jason, at 12:09 AM  

  • Here is an overly theatric reading done as a podcast:

    "Mark Forman, a podcaster, is reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom on his podcast with regular, chapter-by-chapter readings. He’s got the prologue and chapter one live now. Here’s the Podcast feed."

    By Jason, at 8:48 AM  

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