Sunday, November 23, 2008

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Cory Doctorow

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (official website, with downloads) is the second Cory Doctorow novel I've read, but the first that I really enjoyed (see my review of Eastern Standard Tribe). It's the first-person account of Jules, a member of the Bitchun Society.

(The Bitchun Society is a post-scarcity ad-hocracy made possible by free, unlimited energy; free, fast cloning; and free, ubiquitous neural-implant network connectivity (whew!) whose primary currency is Whuffie, or reputation.)

Jules, with the help of his girlfriend, Lil, attempts to help his friend Dan—formerly a missionary for the Bitchun Society to the technophobic remnants of the world—regain his reputation so Dan can go out in a blaze of glory, while defending Disney World's Liberty Square, including the famous Haunted Mansion, from an opposing ad-hoc that wants to turn its attractions into simulated rides. All is going well, until Jules is murdered in the Tiki Room, which ticks him off a little.

I think part of the reason I liked this book so much is that, thanks to Steve, I'm fairly familiar with the setting (or, at least, I'm familiar with Disneyland, which is close enough that I get the picture). But the other part is the cool tech: the cloning, the implanted computer and HUD and connectivity that would put today's Japan to shame.

But, ever since reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I've been wrestling with the concept of personality and identity in a world where everything you are can be backed up and restored in a couple days' time. What does it mean to be Geoff? If I were to make a backup today, "die" tomorrow and be restored, what of that time in-between when I existed and acted but is now irrevocably lost to me? And how do I feel about this? If I were offered, today, the one-time-only opportunity to become a part of the Bitchun society; to have my personality and memories able to be permanently backed up and recorded; granted essential immortality; a clone of myself ready to step in and take my place should anything untoward happen to me; would I take the opportunity? I can honestly say I don't know. There is so much that's amazing about the idea; so much that it would offer, but potentially so much to lose. (Even setting aside questions about security of the system that runs my brain, the sufficiency of the backups created, the issue of impersonation or duplication and, of course, privacy.) And what of the route to get there?

I suppose, in the end, it would be a simple matter of survival: whether I die and am reborn as a clone of myself, or just die, this me will still be dead, but only with the Bitchun Society will some part of me continue on.
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