Rating - 4: worth reading multiple times (buy it)
In value per unit time, this book approaches Stargirl, which is the reigning champion for rewarding your reading time. The tone and storytelling have a similar feel.
In the lightly transhuman future, death and need are solved problems, leaving interest and desire. The Whuffie is a reputational currency that measures how much others respect you and are interested in what you have done. In Disney World, the battle of popularity rages between a traditional park and a virtual reality seeking to replace it. Even when death is a temporary inconvenience, is the Hall of Presidents worth killing for?
The plot really is a battle about innovation in theme park rides, which probably sounds strange and trivial, which it is. The real story is about the people involved in that struggle and the society they represent.
The real story is about hope and despair, with surprisingly deep but light despair that moves quickly and keeps going. Hope emerges to give us new opportunities to go a little deeper. You need those little plateaus and occasional lifts on the path to hitting bottom.
I mentioned Stargirl, which takes a similar idea of great promise and then shows it bottoming out. This starts lower and goes deeper. It opens with the protagonist's best friend contemplating suicide. Our protagonist is on the side of the traditionalists, such as they are, trying to preserve something in the face of popular innovation. This is the tale of a running, losing battle, with many creative applications of It Got Worse.
The Bitchun philosophy is not entirely specified. It involves freedom, rule by popular affirmation, ad hoc organization, and moving beyond death and material want. Combining that with the Whuffie makes the world more or less like high school on a grand scale, where your value as a human being is determined by your number of friends and fans on Facebook. If you are unpopular enough, someone can just drive your car off; it is not stealing if he can do something more popular with it.
That moderates and exacerbates the despair. The battle is that fierce because the stakes are that small. The worst case scenario is eternal life without fear of want, but people can still hurt each other in a variety of ways. Because people are like that.
The writing moves. It may take a little while to get into the concepts like backing up your brain in case you need to copy it to a cloned body, but the level of writing should be accessible to teens and up. You will rock through this book even if you are not a fast reader, and it produces its value for you quickly without making the prose a barrier. More authors need to write for painless reading.
How do we keep things painless with an aura of despair? It does not wallow. The bits of hope help, but the pacing and attitude do a lot. Also, if we can clone people and copy their brains, we can have mood-altering chemicals that keep us active and positive even while recognizing just how badly things are going. It is realistic without being pessimistic.
Our protagonist is surprisingly reliable despite literally having his brain break. You can tell that he is not at his best, that he is making mistakes, that a lot is going wrong on his end, but he is still portraying events accurately and giving us a solid view on the world (see also: All the King's Men). He is watching himself be out-maneuvered with great clarity.
I do not think I am selling it well. This is not one of those books that exists just to torture the protagonist. The problems exist for reasons, both for the plot and for the character development. There is a central tension that displays the protagonist's nobility and foolishness, with a recurring theme that explains the mistake-in-progress while making it a highly sympathetic thing to do.
I am someone who cannot watch sitcoms because of shying away from even embarrassing characters, so I should hate a story that paints high school-style popularity on a grand scale, but the telling and the pacing make it an excellent presentation with lots of value. So many stories make the reader suffer along with the character, but in this case, the author refuses to punish the reader, and you seem to lift the characters up from their despair rather than having them drag you down.
Also, to borrow a line from Heinlein, it is the anticipation of pain that causes suffering more than the pain itself. Despite my telling you, and despite the book's telling you just before it happens, you will still not see it coming when many of the problems hit. The writing and plot remain fresh and exciting.
Pausing my recommendation of the book, I am now going to criticize. As I said, the story has some weaknesses, largely due to the fridge logic of the various ideas it tosses around. Perhaps I should say that the setting as a whole does, although some of them might be intentional.
First, note the triviality of what is going on. Theme parks are serious business. We have ended all death and want so that people can make theme park rides the most important things in their lives? Is it more pitiful if our characters are typical, and all society has focused itself on this kind of thing, or if they are an obsessed minority fighting a meaningless battle on the fringes of nirvana. They are like Caroline, whose reaction to infinite opportunity is to find new ways to hurt herself.
Second, they have been slightly transhuman for a very long time. How can any society like this remain stable for longer than most current countries? How can humans mesh with their technology and shed their limits but remain so small? As I said, this might be intentional, when you consider what happened to the people who did not partake of immortality via brain backup. They died. These are the people left behind after others have pursued a truly post-human path, left behind like the dead. While they are comprehensible to us, the current humans, the fully upgraded must view them as monkeys who decided never to leave the trees.
Third, popularity as currency has some problems. A few are noted, and I might just point to the standard functions of money. The Whuffie is a fine medium of exchange, but it seems a fuzzy unit of account, and its utter failure as a store of value is repeatedly a major plot point. Reputational currency is a neat idea that may have some promise, but the Whuffie seems to break down if you poke at it too hard.
Fourth, why a theme park? As stated, the virtual reality efforts could be sent anywhere via the internet, and that must be worth more Whuffie.
I might normally savage a book for driving its plot by having its protagonist make bad decisions. Nope, even the worst decisions here make sufficient sense in the characters' context. He is flawed but not an utter idiot.
I also have no objection to the intentionally inflammatory elements, which are fairly tame and conservative. The setting is mildly transhuman, so some people make merry with their body configurations. Toss in some extra joints, limbs, feathers, whatever. Except for a few popular cosmetic bits, this is mostly portrayed as rare and weird. It becomes easy to look conservative after the complete upheaval of society.
Based on your notions of personal identity and continuity, you may have problems with the brain backup bit. This is brushed against in passing. If you would still think of it as "you" if we copied your brain into a new body then killed the original body, this is the perfect society in which you could be immortal (although, strangely, there are no cases mentioned of people multiplying themselves without offing the original). If that sounds wrong, and it would just create someone new who would think of him/herself as you, then this could be a continuous tale of horror as there are people who would "move to" a backup body to avoid the inconvenience of a cold. But, as our story notes, people who had those problems just died without leaving backup copies to annoy those whose identities persisted. Cheers!
I am not sure how the book will hold up to repeated reading, since the surprises will not be surprising. The quality of storytelling will remain the same, however, and the rapidity of reading will keep it worthwhile even if the marginal value decreases. Our protagonist makes a point that the best art (he is thinking of the Haunted Mansion at the time) gains value with repeated exposure, as you notice new details and experience it more fully. I will let you know how that goes in some number of years.
Or there are lots of free, legal copies online.