Monday, August 29, 2005

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

I just finished Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I judge it to be a net win, measured by entertainment vs. disappointment. Go read it, or better, go buy it and then read it.

Where the following seems fuzzy and oblique, I have tried to obfuscate the book, so this opinion is not a spoiler. I absolutely hate spoilers.

First, what I dislike about the book is the start. In the first chapter, a load of concepts and termini is unceremoniously dumped in my lap. Now that is something every sciene fiction novel needs to do, to acquaint the reader to the world in which the book is set. But in this case it is done in a way that is jumbled, punky, too colorful, and hence strikes me as cheesy. I noticed the same with Neal Stephenson, especially in Snow Crash.

Which is not to say I dislike weird and exotic scenarios - William Gibson's wonderful (and almost unparalleled) Neuromancer has a very similar setting, yet it is not presented as garish as Mr. Doctorow's first chapter.

After you get over the first chapter, the book becomes more enjoyable by degrees, drawing you into the story, until in chapter five, the protagonist experiences a grave personal loss. It is then that you suddenly realize Mr. Doctorow has somehow managed to lull you by starting off with this harmless, plastic future vision. Although you do not know how he did it, he now has his hand inside you guts, and he is ripping them out. You feel intensely with the protagonist.

From that point on, the book truly is a 'page-turner', as Mark Fraunfelder terms it.

Until chapter nine.

In chapter 9, (the penultimate chapter), the story starts to end slowly but surely, grinding its way to a halt in the manner of an overused machine succumbing to the grit in its gears. (my, but I wax poetic today... Anyway.) The story just ends. No catharrsis, although all loose ends get tied up, in a very curt and anticlimactic way. Until the almost entirely superficial chapter ten, in which the story finally

Also, Whuffie.

I mean, come on. This simply shouts cheesy, in six-inch letters.

I guess my criticism of Whuffie comes down to this: it is entirely a story device, and does not follow any discernible, consistent law at all. To be fair, it is possible that Mr. Doctorow has a clear picture of how Whuffie works, down to the details, but I could not tell from reading his book.

Post Scriptum:

On my way home today, I read a Shadow of the Mothaship, and experienced the exact same disconnect. At first, totally uninteresting. Also hard to read because of all the jargon. Then, I start to get into the story, and a little later, something clicks, and I am, again, captivated. Also the same abrupt ending leaving me wondering and unsatisfied.

Post Post Scriptum:

It is now two days later, and I can feel myself mellowing. In retrospect, the good parts of the story stand out more than the bad ones. I have posted the above to reflect my feelings in the heat of the moment, as it were.


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