Skip to main content

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (SF) - Cory Doctorow ****

I'm not quite sure where I picked up a recommendation for this book, but I'm glad I did as I've been able to add Cory Doctorow to my fairly short list of contemporary science fiction writers that I truly enjoy.

In this entertaining short novel, Doctorow takes on the classic SF question of 'What if?' for something that genuinely could come to pass - the no wage economy, where everyone gets the basics they need and it's up to them, through ad-hoc arrangements, to find ways to earn social credit to get more, should they want it. In a way, the social credit (known for unexplained reasons, unless I missed it, as Whuffie) is the equivalent of the rating system in the Black Mirror episode where everyone constantly rates everyone else. The other major change to society, which is far less likely to happen, is that when someone dies they are recreated from a clone which is imprinted with their backed up memory - so death becomes a minor irritation (unless you aren't entirely comfortable with a copy of yourself being a true replacement), while some choose to be put to sleep for thousands of years.

Our hero, Julius, ends up at Disney World, where he works with a group that help maintain and run a group of the attractions, in a period when some of the traditional attractions (the gem of his group's collection is the Haunted Mansion) are being replaced by direct brain access experiences. The main thread of the story follows Julius's attempts at guerrilla action to save his beloved ride in a world where social capital is everything.

On the whole the novel works well - Doctorow manages to be genuinely interesting about the challenges faced by a society where no work is required and lives are indefinite, while never getting into boring polemic. The storyline had some small issues for me, particularly when an outcome is flagged up very early - but I really enjoyed this book, which feels like the kind of thing Pohl and Kornbluth would be writing now if still around - no greater accolade - and I will certainly be trying more of Doctorow's output.

Paperback:  

Kindle 

Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…

The Cosmic Mystery Tour – Nicholas Mee ****

This is another book, like last year’s Enjoy Our Universe by Alvaro de Rújula, that sets out to provide a light-hearted introduction to physics and astrophysics for the general reader. It’s from the same publisher (OUP) and packaged in the same way: as a high quality small-format hardback with 200 glossy pages, the majority of them adorned with colour pictures. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Unlike its predecessor, this new book by Nicholas Mee delivers exactly what it promises.

It’s not that de Rújula’s book was a bad one, but he just wasn’t able to think his way into the reader’s mind. He kept saying ‘physics is fun’, but he was talking about the fun a professional physicist gets out of doing it – which is a very arcane, often highly mathematical, type of fun. The result, for a non-specialist reader, was actually quite alienating. Mee, on the other hand, understands exactly how his readers think, what they find interesting, and the details that – no matter how important they …

Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon - Brian Clegg ****

‘It’s not uncommon when trying to give Maxwell his rightful place in the pantheon of physics to bracket him with Newton and Einstein’, Brian Clegg says towards the end of this book. In one sense that’s perfectly true. Dip into any physics textbook and you’ll see Maxwell’s name at least as often as the other two. His greatest achievement – Maxwell’s equations – did for electromagnetism what Newton had done for gravity, while laying the essential theoretical groundwork for everything Einstein was to do.

There’s a big difference, though. A few years ago, when I was offered the chance to write short biographies of Newton and Einstein, I jumped at it – because they addressed mysteries of the universe that anyone can relate to, and their lives outside physics were, if anything, even more fascinating. At the risk of sounding downright rude, you can’t say either of those things about James Clerk Maxwell. In spite of that, Brian Clegg has done a wonderful job here of recounting just what Maxwel…