Racism is a huge part of the short lives of the dittos in Kiln People. Dittos are clones, made of nano-clay, who live only 24 hours. Nano-clay’s sensory system can be hyper-sensitive or practically non-existent. A ditto may be forced to do anything you ever imagined doing or have done to you. At least if you have enough money. Your consciousness is copied onto their clay-flesh. Any time up until 24 hours after birth, all memories can be copied back into you again. Dittos are programmed for obedience and varying degrees of independent thinking. Some owners, like Albert Morris, are fairly decent. Others are shitty as hell.
“… I figure if you make a creature, you’re responsible for it. That ditto wanted to matter. He fought like hell to continue. And now he’s part of me, like several hundred others that made it home for inloading, ever since the first time I used a kiln, at sixteen.”
“… The copier sifts your organic brain to engrave the Standing Wave onto a fresh template made of special clay, ripening in the kiln. Soon a new ditto departs into the world to perform errands while you have breakfast. No need even to tell it what to do.
It already knows.
The color the ditto equals its value and abilities. Orange dittos are cheapest and used for manual labor that does not require much thinking or sensing. Platinum dittos are the most expensive, and only people like Kaolin can afford them. On this case, Albert can afford an ebony one. Ebony dittos have processing abilities that are far ahead of Albert’s. Greys are the ones Albert sends out to represent him. He uses green dittos to do the dirty work a detective sometimes needs to do. Sensory input is lower for greens but processing is probably about the same as for its archie/rig/owner.
Dittos are at the bottom of the social ladder. Instant destruction follows if they harm a “real” human. A flesh and blood human can do anything to a ditto they meet. At most they will be fined. Dittos are made to fight each other to the death, to be sex-slaves, to dig in the mines or to be substitute private detectives. Their clothes are paper. Albert Morris is a private detective with two missions in life. One is to reveal the identity of Beta. Beta and Albert have a long history of killing each other (their dittos), and Albert really wants to know who is behind his arch-nemesis. Albert’s other mission is to be as good a private detective as possible.
In this future world, where we get to lay any ethical pretensions on the shelf, being a private detective seems unnecessary. But there is always a need for diggers into people’s lives. In this future, wealth buys you out of trouble as easily as it does now.
“Ugh. What put me in this mood? Could it be Ritu’s news? A reminder that real death still lurks for us all?
Well, shrug it off! Life’s still the same as it was in the old days.
Sometimes you’re the grasshopper.
Sometimes you are the ant.”
Albert gets hired by stinking rich Aeneas Kaolin, co-inventor of dittos and owner of Universal Kilns, to look into the disappearance of Kaolin’s long-time friend, Yosil Maharal. Maharal turns up dead in what seems to be a car accident. Albert wonders if it might be something more.
One thing I really liked about Brin’s writing style was how he told the stories of Albert’s dittos in Albert’s voice. There were four Alberts at the same time. None of them knew what was going on with any of the others because they had not been able to get in touch with each other. The green one had turned into a Frankie. I liked its independent streak. Its ability to disobey.
Brin’s world-building happened through the eyes and ears of the various Alberts. What they learned, we learned. I would not have wanted to live in such a society. I find ours challenging enough. It was an interesting society, though, and one I think most people would embrace. No room for Aspies though. Genetic tinkering had become common enough that our worst ailments were eradicated. That, I wouldn’t mind if we had. Much of Kiln People‘s society did not make sense. Population control is one. Why so many people? At least the fanatics were pretty the same as always.
Towards the end, I felt preached at. I don’t mind crazy men’s ranting, but this felt more like Brin was trying to get a message across. A lost cause in me.
“Albert? Is that you in there?”Illusion or not, I couldn’t refuse her anything. Though lacking a body – or any other means to make sound – I somehow gathered strength to mouth four words.
“… just … a … fax … ma’am …”
Plenty of action, no romance, social commentary, humor, some preaching. Recommended.
- Audible: Read by Andy Caploe; Brilliance Audio, 2016
- Bulgarian: Килн хора; Translated by Венцислав Божилов; Бард, 2002; Goodreads
- English (British): Kil’n People; London, Orbit, 2002; Review
- French: Le Peuple d’argile; Translated by Thierry Arson; Presses de la Cité, 2004; Review
- German: Copy; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; Heyne, 2005
- Hebrew: אנשי הכבשן; Translated by Ṿered Ṭokhṭerman; מודן הוצאה לאור, 2004; Review
- Hungarian: Dettó; Translated by Haklik Norbert; Budapest, Metropolis Media, 2009; Reviews
- Japanese: キルン・ピープル; Translated by 酒井昭伸 (Sakai Akinobu); ハヤカワ文庫 (Hayakawa bunko) SF1628, 2007; Cover art: 加藤直之 (Katou Naoyuki); Review
- Russian: Глина; Translated by С. Самуйлов; АСТ: Люкс, 2005 г; Cover art: SharksDen и Д. Бернса; Reviews
- Spanish: Gente de Barro; Translated by Rafael Marín Trechera; Nova, 2003; Review