As with many of his novels, David Brin’s Kiln People is an excellent science fiction story about a highly possible future. David Brin seems to keep himself up-to-date on neurological research and extends that information into alternatives we might well encounter if humans do not destroy themselves (also highly probable) before such technology becomes possible.
Racism is a huge part of the short lives of dittos in Kiln People. Dittos are clones, made of nano-clay, who live only 24 hours. A person’s consciousness is copied into them and all of their experiences may be copied back into your consciousness again – as long as it is done within 24 hours after their birth. At that time, dittos turn into a kind of sludge. The color the ditto equals its value and abilities. Prices go from the cheapest Orange dittos, that are generally used for manual labor where independent thinking or sensing is seldom required, to the most expensive Platinum ones, that are like a better version of their Archie (original). Dittos are have varying degrees of independent thinking but must always be obedient to their Archie’s commands. They can be forced to do anything you can possibly imagine. 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 sensory system can be hyper-sensitive or practically non-existent depending on exactly what you want them to experience, which leaves a lot of room for shitty owners to make their ditto’s life a living hell. While an Archie may do anything to a ditto they meet, instant destruction follows if a ditto harms an Archie. Even though people are allowed to make their dittos do anything, only wealthy people get away with “real” criminal activities. So, just like today. No matter how nice their owner is, dittos are still at the bottom of the social ladder. Albert Morris is a fairly decent owner.
“… 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.
Albert is the main character. As a private investigator he uses dittoes to go where he does not want to go. In fact, with enough money, he would never have to leave his home. Depending on the case, Albert uses different colored dittos. In Kiln People, Albert uses Ebony (huge processing abilities), Greys (used as representatives) and Greens (used for his dirty work).
Albert has two missions in life. One is to reveal the identity of Beta. Beta and Albert have a long history of killing each other (i.e. their dittos), and Albert really wants to know who is behind his arch-nemesis’ alias. Being as good a private detective as possible is his second mission. Corporate espionage and digging up dirt on competitors is something private investigators continue to do in the future.
“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 incomprehensibly wealthy Aeneas Kaolin, co-inventor of dittos and owner of Universal Kilns, to look into the disappearance of Kaolin’s long-time friend, Yosil Maharal. When 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 Kiln People was the way Brin told the stories of Albert’s dittos in Albert’s voice. At one point, 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 reintegrated into their Archie. 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. Just as I think of today’s society, some of the political choices of the society of Kiln People did not make sense. At least the fanatics behaved predictably.
Towards the end, I felt preached at. I don’t mind crazy men’s ranting, but this felt more like Brin telling, not showing. I also enjoyed Brin’s sense of humour.
“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 …”
In conclusion, I think I can safely say that there is plenty of action, no romance, much social commentary, humour, and some preaching. I liked it.
- 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