Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 1 of 61

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Cory Doctorow

Copyright 2003 Cory Doctorow

A note about this book, February 12, 2004:

As you will see, when you read the text beneath this section, I released this book a little over a year ago under the terms of a Creative Commons license that allowed my readers to freely redistribute the text without needing any further permission from me. In this fashion, I enlisted my readers in the service of a grand experiment, to see how my book could find its way into cultural relevance and commercial success. The experiment worked out very satisfactorily.

When I originally licensed the book under the terms set out in the next section, I did so in the most conservative fashion possible, using CC’s most restrictive license. I wanted to dip my toe in before taking a plunge. I wanted to see if the sky would fall: you see writers are routinely schooled by their peers that maximal copyright is the only thing that stands between us and penury, and so ingrained was this lesson in me that even though I had the intellectual intuition that a “some rights reserved” regime would serve me well, I still couldn’t shake the atavistic fear that I was about to do something very foolish indeed.

It wasn’t foolish. I’ve since released a short story collection:
A Place So Foreign and Eight More
and a second novel:
Eastern Standard Tribe
in this fashion, and my career is turning over like a goddamned locomotive engine. I am thrilled beyond words (an extraordinary circumstance for a writer!) at the way that this has all worked out.

And so now I’m going to take a little bit of a plunge. Today, in coincidence with my talk at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference:
Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books

I am re-licensing this book under a far less restrictive Creative Commons license, the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. This is a license that allows you, the reader, to noncommercially “remix” this book — you have my blessing to make your own translations, radio and film adaptations, sequels, fan fiction, missing chapters, machine remixes, you name it. A number of you assumed that you had my blessing to do this in the first place, and I can’t say that I’ve been at all put out by the delightful and creative derivative works created from this book, but now you have my explicit blessing, and I hope you’ll use it.

Here’s the license in summary:

  • Full License
  • You are free:
    • to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work
    • to make derivative works
  • Under the following conditions:
    • Attribution. You must give the original author credit.
    • Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
    • Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
  • For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work.
  • Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the author.
  • Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above.

A note about this book, January 2, 2003:

“Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” is my first novel. It’s an actual, no-foolin’ 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 e-book. 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: first-time 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 a blog, Boing Boing, where I do a lot of word-of-mouthing. 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 of futurosity.

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 and my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden for being hep enough to let me try out this experiment.

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 I’m proud to be a part of it.


Prologue

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, summer-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 sun-bleached eyebrow. “You get any closer, son, and we’re going to have to get a pre-nup.”

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 personal space.”

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 jaunting?” 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 fringe-dwellers 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 survive 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 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 up 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. Off-world, 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 not 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, almost everyone I’d known in my eighty-some years were deadheading or jaunting or just gone. Lonely days, then.

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