KILN PEOPLE
David Brin

 


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Tor, January 2002
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Generations into the future

Detective Albert Morris can pursue his violent profession without a qualm. Clay copies of himself search out the bad guys. A “ditto” might be stabbed, shot, drowned, or dismembered, but as long as the copied head gets back to realAlbert by the end of twenty-four hours, its memories are all uploaded to its original to advance the investigation.

What does it feel like to be one of the billions of dittos in existence at any single time? It feels pretty much like being a realperson. Certain enhancements of abilities can be made in copying, but the realperson’s personality and his whole life up until the moment of copying are all imprinted on the clay blank. Each ditto of Albert, knowing it only has twenty-four hours to live, goes out to do its job, while realAlbert stays at home to plan strategy, snoop over the internet, or spend time with his ladyfriend Clara – anything so long as it’s safe.

As the action opens, a ditAlbert is fleeing the thugs of a criminal known as Beta. Beta is a recurring opponent of Albert, an archcriminal who illegally makes and sells copies of famous people. Driven by the never-say-die obstinacy which is Albert’s strongest trait, this ditto makes it possible for realAlbert to break up the copying ring. But that’s only the beginning. Albert has come to the attention of some powerful people whose motives can only be guessed at.

When Albert creates his Tuesday dittos, each of the three should be disintegrated by Wednesday. But new technology is in the air, and two of them are destined to last, in changed form, until Friday, when all is revealed. In this society, with cameras almost everywhere, it shows the genius of Albert’s opponents that any secrets have been kept at all. Even multiplied, Albert would be no match for these people without dogged determination and a painful application of the new technologies. This society is due to be rocked to its foundations yet again by what he discovers.

567 paperback pages seems like a lot of space to cover only five days, but remember, we have realAlbert and several of his copies all narrating their part of the action. The main copies are a gray ditto, the businessman version, sent to investigate the death of Dr. Yosil Maharal on behalf of his daughter Ritu. This gray disappears from the expensive estate of Ritu’s employer Aeneas Kaolin before he has had time to learn much. The other ditto with a future is a green, copied to do the household chores but destined to be a hero. A second gray takes an investigation contract which is not what it appears to be, and a black ditto adds concentrated computer skills to the inquiry.

Weaving back and forth between these viewpoints, we become as confused as the various Alberts were meant to be. You have to be able to think with the logic of this unique civilization to follow the choices and possibilities of KILN PEOPLE. Albert is very much at home in his world, but new potentials are opening up, and he can only speculate what is going on behind the scenes.

To help keep track of all these Alberts, author David Brin has entertained himself with his chapter headings. Riffs on contemporary sayings (our contemporary) humorously signal the reader who is going to be narrating next, and about what. He has also twisted terms just a little to fit them to ditto life, dropping them casually into the narration. For example, a ditto of Albert is a ditective; kidnapping a ditto is ditnapping. Brin's writing is not known for its sense of humor, and here we see why. The jokes are very self-contained, dry and whimsical. Brin doesn’t care if you “get it” or not – he enjoyed it.

David Brin earned his place among the aristocracy of science fiction when his STARTIDE RISING won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. A scientist in real life, he makes the ecology of nature a recurring theme in his books. He also does what I call “social ecology”. He postulates a single, big what-if, then theorizes all the large and small ways in which that what-if would affect a society. In the case of KILN PEOPLE, he has dittos doing all the dangerous or unpleasant things. What will the realpeople of that society do to escape boredom? What is the life of an expendable, short-lived ditto like? How much heart is it possible to have, when life is so cheap? And where do we go from here?

June 2005 Review

 

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