aka Kil'n People

Returning in high style to detective fiction that also happens to be science fiction, David Brin wastes not a single moment in letting us know that he's changed all the rules except two:

It's hard to stay cordial while fighting for your life, even when your life doesn't amount to much.
Even when you're just a lump of clay.
the detective will narrate; and there will be groan-inducing puns! To know what the pun is in that first sentence, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to read the book - like almost everything about this gem - it's too neat to give away!

The world of this chunky and enthralling novel has all the future developments you might expect extrapolating in a certain direction from today: the web has been replaced by the World Eye, everything's connected and little if any privacy truly exists; policing has largely been deregulated and moved to the private sector; and nanotech is commonplace and not even worthy of comment by a future that uses it rather like we use, say, petrol.

The big change is rather singular, the eponymous kil'n people. Quick-rise dittos that are copies of you - with suitable modifications for their task. Send one off to do the shopping, and one off to a gladiator range. And at the end of the day, when all the "yous" return salmon-like to their spawning ground - you can upload a rush, or a day paying bills, or both, or none. Their chemical "batteries" spent, at the end of 24 hours, your golems dissolve into a small pool of recyclable sludge.

Staunch partiers have a saying - if your ditto makes it home in one piece, you didn't have a good time.

Of course such a massive change has all sorts of moral, ethical, societal and religious implications, and it's a strength of the book that it doesn't shy away from these or try to sweep them under the carpet - in fact it could be argued that these things are what the book is about. In an afterword, Brin thanks all those who helped him think through the permutations, and it really shows. Once your imagination is alight with the idea (after about the first 5 pages), you have to run to keep up with Brin + thinktank, and that makes the world completely convincing.

The quarrydit was fast - puffing, running and dodging like mad. Still he spared me a brief glance as I passed, and I realised two things.
One: he has the same face as one of the hunters.
Two: I could swear he's having a good time!

An enthralling detective tale that will keep you guessing until the denouement, a science fiction story that is destined to be a classic, and enough cool tech to keep your brain in high gear for weeks after you turn the last page. What more could you want? Buy it now.

† I wrote to David Brin on August 8, 2005 about the spelling change in the book's title, which is Kil'n People on the cover of my book, but Kiln People on Amazon and elsewhere. Mr. Brin wrote back:

Interesting question. The original draft had the apostrophe. I removed it in the final US edition, but the UK publisher adored it and persuaded me to let them keep it in. And now there are movie possibilities!
Movie possibilities?! Great news!

Kil'n People, David Brin, Tor Books / Orbit 2002, ISBN 1 84149 152 7

Publisher: Tor Books (January 12, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN: 0765303558 (hardcover) 0765342618 (paperback)

Kiln People, by noted science fiction author David Brin, is a novel which deals with, as so much of science fiction does, the effects of a radical technological shift on individuals. The technology in question in this case is the ditto, a clay based, nanotech powered golem of sorts, which is imprinted with the consciousness of a human being. This has revolutionized society, as the normal behavior of individuals is to send a ditto out to do most tasks, and to dedicate the "rig" (the original, irreplaceable human body) to exercise so as to maximize the time they have to effectively live multiple lives through the dittos.

A person can implant themselves into as many dittos as they want at the same time. The dittos have a limited lifespan. More expensive dittos may have special abilities or the capacity to think more effectively and generally last longer. The cheaper dittos last about a day. Before dissolving, a ditto's memories are transferred back into the host. There is no real limit to how many dittos may be in use at once, though there does appear to be a limit as to how much data a human brain can hold, and for some, after years of heavy ditto usage, physical breakdown of the original brain will result in it filling (and failing).

This ability to be in multiple places simultaneously has led to most of humanity being economically disenfranchised. The most talented people make many dittos of themselves and hire themselves out to do that for which they are best suited. The second or third best get no work at all since the best can be effectively everywhere at once. This has led to the vast majority of humanity being on the equivalent of welfare. Only the uniquely skilled have jobs of their own.

One such uniquely skilled individual is the protagonist of the story, Albert Morris. Morris is a private investigator. His repuation earns him the task of locating the missing co-founder of Universal Kilns, Dr. Yosil Maharal. UK invented dittos, and is therefore a very wealthy and powerful client. It is during this investigation that Morris discovers the insane individual behind the disappearance and the mad scheme which threatens slaughter on a massive scale.

The interesting thing about Kiln people is the fact that ditto technology has effectively created a sort of subhuman species. While the rig is respected, and no ditto would harm a hair on a real head, dittos are simply property. You could get into trouble for destroying one, but no one sees them as being human or partly human. This is an oddity which Brin does a good job in exploring. Ultimately, I think the book could have been somewhat deeper in its treatment of the moral and religious issues associated with this technology, but, perhaps, this, like so many discoveries, is an exercise best left to the reader. I highly recommend this book. It is thought provoking and a fair page-turner. I actually enjoyed it more than any of the Uplift novels I read by Brin, but this is not the opinion shared by most of his fans from what I gather.

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