Down and Out
? 2003 Cory Doctorow
Tor Books, January 2003
Cory Doctorow Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 1
He sparkles! He fizzes! He does backflips and breaks the furniture! Science
fiction needs Cory Doctorow!
Author, The Hacker Crackdown and Distraction
— • —
In the true spirit of Walt Disney, Doctorow has ripped a part of our common
culture, mixed it with a brilliant story, and burned into our culture a new set
of memes that will be with us for a generation at least. Lawrence Lessig
Author, The Future of Ideas
— • —
Cory Doctorow doesn‟t just write about the future - I think he lives
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom isn‟t just a really good read, it‟s also,
like the best kind of fiction, a kind of guide book. See the Tomorrowland of
Tomorrow today, and while you‟re there, why not drop by Frontierland, and
the Haunted Mansion as well? (It‟s the Mansion that‟s the haunted heart of
this book.) Cory makes me feel nostalgic for the future - a dizzying, yet
rather pleasant sensation, as if I‟m spiraling down the tracks of Space
Mountain over and over again. Visit the Magic Kingdom and live forever! Kelly Link
Author, Stranger Things Happen
— • —
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is the most entertaining and exciting
science fiction story I‟ve read in the last few years. I love page-turners,
especially when they are as unusual as this novel. I predict big things for
Down and Out—it could easily become a breakout genre-buster. Mark Frauenfelder
Contributing Editor, Wired Magazine
Imagine you woke up one day and Walt Disney had taken over the world. Not only that, but money‟s been abolished and somebody‟s developed the
Cure for Death. Welcome to the Bitchun Society—and make sure you‟re
strapped in tight, because it‟s going to be a wild ride. In a world where
everyone‟s wishes can come true, one man returns to the original,
crumbling city of dreams—Disney World. Here in the spiritual center of the
Bitchun Society he struggles to find and preserve the original, human face
of the Magic Kingdom against the young, post-human and increasingly alien inheritors of the Earth. Now that any experience can be simulated, human relationships become ever more fragile; and to Julius, the corny, mechanical ghosts of the Haunted Mansion have come to seem like a precious link to a past when we could tell the real from the simulated, the
true from the false.
Cory Doctorow—cultural critic, Disneyphile, and ultimate Early Adopter—uses language with the reckless confidence of the Beat poets. Yet
behind the dazzling prose and vibrant characters lie ideas we should all pay
heed to. The future rushes on like a plummeting roller coaster, and it‟s hard
to see where we‟re going. But at least with this book Doctorow has given us
a map of the park.
— • —
Cory Doctorow is the most interesting new SF writer I‟ve come across in
years. He starts out at the point where older SF writers‟ speculations end.
It‟s a distinct pleasure to give him some Whuffie.
Cory Doctorow Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 2
Cory Doctorow rocks! I check his blog about ten times a day, because he‟s
always one of the first to notice a major incursion from the socialtechnological-
pop-cultural future, and his voice is a compelling vehicle for news from the future. Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom is about a world that is visible in its outlines today, if you know where to look, from
reputation systems to peer-to-peer adhocracies. Doctorow knows where to
look, and how to word-paint the rest of us into the picture. Howard Rheingold
Author, Smart Mobs
— • —
Doctorow is more than just a sick mind looking to twist the perceptions of
those whose realities remain uncorrupted - though that should be enough recommendation to read his work. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is black comedic, sci-fi prophecy on the dangers of surrendering our consensual hallucination to the regime. Fun to read, but difficult to sleep
Author of Cyberia and Media Virus!
— • —
“Wow! Disney imagineering meets nanotechnology, the reputation
economy, and Ray Kurzweil‟s transhuman future. As much fun as Neal
Stephenson‟s Snow Crash, and as packed with mind bending ideas about
social changes cascading from the frontiers of science.”
Publisher and Founder, O‟Reilly and Associates
— • —
Doctorow has created a rich and exciting vision of the future, and then wrote a page-turner of a story in it. I couldn‟t put the book down.
Author, Secrets and Lies
Cory Doctorow is one of our best new writers: smart, daring, savvy, entertaining, ambitious, plugged-in, and as good a guide to the wired world
of the twenty-first century that stretches out before us as you‟re going to
Editor, Asimov‟s SF
— • —
Cory Doctorow‟s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” tells a gripping,
fast-paced story that hinges on thought-provoking extrapolation from today‟s technical realities. This is the sort of book that captures and defines
the spirit of a turning point in human history when our tools remake ourselves and our world.
Founder, Lotus, Inc., co-founder Electronic Frontier Foundation
Cory Doctorow Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 3
A Note About This Book
“Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” is my first novel. It‟s an actual, nofoolin‟
words-on-paper book, published by the good people at Tor Books in New York City. You can buy this book in stores or online, by following links like this one:
So, what‟s with this file? Good question.
I‟m releasing the entire text of this book as a free, freely redistributable ebook.
You can download it, put it on a P2P net, put it on your site, email it
to a friend, and, if you‟re addicted to dead trees, you can even print it.
Why am I doing this thing? Well, it‟s a long story, but to shorten it up: firsttime
novelists have a tough row to hoe. Our publishers don‟t have a lot of
promotional budget to throw at unknown factors like us. Mostly, we rise and fall based on word-of-mouth. I‟m not bad at word-of-mouth. I have
blog, Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net), where I do a lot of word-ofmouthing.
I compulsively tell friends and strangers about things that I like. And telling people about stuff I like is way, way easier if I can just send it to
‟em. Way easier.
What‟s more, P2P nets kick all kinds of ass. Most of the books, music and
movies ever released are not available for sale, anywhere in the world. In
the brief time that P2P nets have flourished, the ad-hoc masses of the
Internet have managed to put just about everything online. What‟s more,
they‟ve done it for cheaper than any other archiving/revival effort ever. I‟m
a stone infovore and this kinda Internet mishegas gives me a serious frisson
Yeah, there are legal problems. Yeah, it‟s hard to figure out how people are
gonna make money doing it. Yeah, there is a lot of social upheaval and a
serious threat to innovation, freedom, business, and whatnot. It‟s your basic
end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario, and as a science fiction writer,
end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenaria are my stock-in-trade. I‟m especially grateful to my publisher, Tor Books (http://www.tor.com)
and my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden
(http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite) for being hep enough to let me try out
All that said, here‟s the deal: I‟m releasing this book under a license
developed by the Creative Commons project
This is a project that lets people like me roll our own license agreements for
the distribution of our creative work under terms similar to those employed
by the Free/Open Source Software movement. It‟s a great project, and
proud to be a part of it.
Here's a summary of the licence:
Attribution. The licensor permits others to copy,
distribute, display, and perform the work. In return, licensees must give the original author credit.
Noncommercial. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work. In return, licensees may not use the work for commercial
purposes—unless they get the licensor's permission.
No Derivative Works. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display and perform only unaltered copies of the work—not derivative works based on it.
The full terms of the license are here:
Cory Doctorow Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 4
I lived long enough to see the cure for death; to see the rise of the Bitchun
Society, to learn ten languages; to compose three symphonies; to realize my
boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World; to see the death of
the workplace and of work.
I never thought I‟d live to see the day when Keep A-Movin‟ Dan would
decide to deadhead until the heat death of the Universe. Dan was in his second or third blush of youth when I first met him, sometime late-XXI. He was a rangy cowpoke, apparent 25 or so, all rawhide squint-lines and sunburned neck, boots worn thin and infinitely comfortable. I was in the middle of my Chem thesis, my fourth Doctorate, and he was taking a break from Saving the World, chilling on campus in
Toronto and core-dumping for some poor Anthro major. We hooked up at the Grad Students‟ Union—the GSU, or Gazoo for those who knew—on a
busy Friday night, spring-ish. I was fighting a coral-slow battle for a stool at
the scratched bar, inching my way closer every time the press of bodies shifted, and he had one of the few seats, surrounded by a litter of cigarette
junk and empties, clearly encamped.
Some duration into my foray, he cocked his head at me and raised a sunbleached
eyebrow. “You get any closer, son, and we‟re going to have to get
I was apparent forty or so, and I thought about bridling at being called son, but I looked into his eyes and decided that he had enough realtime that
he could call me son anytime he wanted. I backed off a little and apologized.
He struck a cig and blew a pungent, strong plume over the bartender‟s
head. “Don‟t worry about it. I‟m probably a little over accustomed to
I couldn‟t remember the last time I‟d heard anyone on-world talk about
personal space. With the mortality rate at zero and the birth-rate at non-zero,
the world was inexorably accreting a dense carpet of people, even with the
migratory and deadhead drains on the population. “You‟ve been
I asked—his eyes were too sharp for him to have missed an instant‟s
experience to deadheading.
He chuckled. “No sir, not me. I‟m into the kind of macho shitheadery
that you only come across on-world. Jaunting‟s for play; I need work. ” The
bar-glass tinkled a counterpoint.
I took a moment to conjure a HUD with his Whuffie score on it. I had to
resize the window—he had too many zeroes to fit on my standard display. I
tried to act cool, but he caught the upwards flick of my eyes and then their
involuntary widening. He tried a little aw-shucksery, gave it up and let a
prideful grin show.
“I try not to pay it much mind. Some people, they get overly grateful. ”
He must‟ve seen my eyes flick up again, to pull his Whuffie history. “Wait,
don‟t go doing that—I‟ll tell you about it, you really got to know.
“Damn, you know, it‟s so easy to get used to life without hyperlinks.
You‟d think you‟d really miss ‟em, but you don‟t.”
And it clicked for me. He was a missionary—one of those fringedwellers
who act as emissary from the Bitchun Society to the benighted corners of the world where, for whatever reasons, they want to die, starve,
and choke on petrochem waste. It‟s amazing that these communities
more than a generation; in the Bitchun Society proper, we usually outlive our detractors. The missionaries don‟t have such a high success rate—you
have to be awfully convincing to get through to a culture that‟s already
successfully resisted nearly a century‟s worth of propaganda—but when
you convert a whole village, you accrue all the Whuffie they have to give.
More often, missionaries end up getting refreshed from a backup after they
aren‟t heard from for a decade or so. I‟d never met one in the flesh before.
“How many successful missions have you had?” I asked.
“Figured it out, huh? I‟ve just come off my fifth in twenty
years—counterrevolutionaries hidden out in the old Cheyenne Mountain NORAD site, still there a generation later. ” He sandpapered his whiskers
with his fingertips. “Their parents went to ground after their life‟s savings
vanished, and they had no use for tech any more advanced than a rifle. Plenty of those, though.”
He spun a fascinating yarn then, how he slowly gained the acceptance of
the mountain-dwellers, and then their trust, and then betrayed it in subtle,
beneficent ways: introducing Free Energy to their greenhouses, then a
Cory Doctorow Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 5
gengineered crop or two, then curing a couple deaths, slowly inching them
toward the Bitchun Society, until they couldn‟t remember why they hadn‟t
wanted to be a part of it from the start. Now they were mostly off-world, exploring toy frontiers with unlimited energy and unlimited supplies and
deadheading through the dull times en route.
“I guess it‟d be too much of a shock for them to stay on-world. They
think of us as the enemy, you know—they had all kinds of plans drawn
for when we invaded them and took them away; hollow suicide teeth, booby-traps, fall-back-and-rendezvous points for the survivors. They just
can‟t get over hating us, even though we don‟t even know they exist. Offworld,
they can pretend that they‟re still living rough and hard. ” He rubbed
his chin again, his hard calluses grating over his whiskers. “But for me, the
real rough life is right here, on-world. The little enclaves, each one is like an
alternate history of humanity—what if we‟d taken the Free Energy, but
deadheading? What if we‟d taken deadheading, but only for the critically ill,
not for people who didn‟t want to be bored on long bus-rides? Or no
hyperlinks, no ad-hocracy, no Whuffie? Each one is different and wonderful.”
I have a stupid habit of arguing for the sake of, and I found myself saying, “Wonderful? Oh sure, nothing finer than, oh, let‟s see, dying,
starving, freezing, broiling, killing, cruelty and ignorance and pain and
misery. I know I sure miss it.”
Keep A-Movin‟ Dan snorted. “You think a junkie misses sobriety?”
I knocked on the bar. “Hello! There aren‟t any junkies anymore!”
He struck another cig. “But you know what a junkie is, right? Junkies
don‟t miss sobriety, because they don‟t remember how sharp everything
was, how the pain made the joy sweeter. We can‟t remember what it was
like to work to earn our keep; to worry that there might not be enough, that
we might get sick or get hit by a bus. We don‟t remember what it was like
to take chances, and we sure as shit don‟t remember what it felt like to have
them pay off.”
He had a point. Here I was, only in my second or third adulthood, and already ready to toss it all in and do something, anything, else. He had a
point—but I wasn‟t about to admit it. “So you say. I say, I take a chance
when I strike up a conversation in a bar, when I fall in love . . . And what
about the deadheads? Two people I know, they just went deadhead for ten
thousand years! Tell me that‟s not taking a chance!” Truth be told,
everyone I‟d known in my eighty-some years were deadheading or jaunting or just gone. Lonely days, then.
“Brother, that‟s committing half-assed suicide. The way we‟re going,
they‟ll be lucky if someone doesn‟t just switch ‟em off when it comes
to reanimate. In case you haven‟t noticed, it‟s getting a little crowded
I made pish-tosh sounds and wiped off my forehead with a barnapkin—
the Gazoo was beastly hot on summer nights. “Uh-huh, just like
the world was getting a little crowded a hundred years ago, before Free Energy. Like it was getting too greenhousey, too nukey, too hot or too cold.
We fixed it then, we‟ll fix it again when the time comes. I‟m gonna be here
in ten thousand years, you damn betcha, but I think I‟ll do it the long way
He cocked his head again, and gave it some thought. If it had been any of the other grad students, I‟d have assumed he was grepping for some
bolstering factoids to support his next sally. But with him, I just knew he
was thinking about it, the old-fashioned way.
“I think that if I‟m still here in ten thousand years, I‟m going to be crazy
as hell. Ten thousand years, pal! Ten thousand years ago, the state-of-the-art
was a goat. You really think you‟re going to be anything recognizably
human in a hundred centuries? Me, I‟m not interested in being a postperson.
I‟m going to wake up one day, and I‟m going to say, ‟Well, I guess
I‟ve seen about enough,‟ and that‟ll be my last day.”
I had seen where he was going with this, and I had stopped paying attention while I readied my response. I probably should have paid more attention. “But why? Why not just deadhead for a few centuries, see if
there‟s anything that takes your fancy, and if not, back to sleep for
more? Why do anything so final?”
He embarrassed me by making a show of thinking it over again, making me feel like I was just a half-pissed glib poltroon. “I suppose it‟s because
nothing else is. I‟ve always known that someday, I was going to stop moving, stop seeking, stop kicking, and have done with it. There‟ll come a
day when I don‟t have anything left to do, except stop.”
— • —
On campus, they called him Keep-A-Movin‟ Dan, because of his
cowboy vibe and because of his lifestyle, and he somehow grew to take over every conversation I had for the next six months. I pinged his Whuffie
a few times, and noticed that it was climbing steadily upward as he accumulated more esteem from the people he met.
I‟d pretty much pissed away most of my Whuffie—all the savings from
the symphonies and the first three theses—drinking myself stupid at
Gazoo, hogging library terminals, pestering profs, until I‟d expended all the
respect anyone had ever afforded me. All except Dan, who, for some
Cory Doctorow Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 6
reason, stood me to regular beers and meals and movies. I got to feeling like I was someone special—not everyone had a chum
exotic as Keep-A-Movin‟ Dan, the legendary missionary who visited the only places left that were closed to the Bitchun Society. I can‟t say for sure
why he hung around with me. He mentioned once or twice that he‟d liked
my symphonies, and he‟d read my Ergonomics thesis on applying themepark