Publisher: Tor Books (January 12, 2002)
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.