- Read expert review at epinions.com"/>
Pros: The basic idea and Brin?s extrapolations.
Cons: At times over-the-top.
Somewhere, lounging on a cloud, plucking a harp with her hooves, Dolly the Sheep looks down on the world and bleats remonstratingly. I imagine she is pained by the debate she helped fuel, that the cries for and against human cloning rise up to her ears like the nagging of children who cant resolve their disputes without appealing to a parental power.
Dolly, Dolly, tell us please. Do clones have souls?
by David Brin
Kiln People isnt populated by clones. Technically speaking. Instead of human flesh Brins dittoes are made of clay, fired with a humans standing wave, imbued with his or her memories and personality. And disposable. Temporary, to be precise. With a 24-hour life expectancy to exercise further precision. At the end of which the dittos experiences can be uploaded back into the originals standing wave, rejoining the stream of consciousness.
One person, unlimited bodies. Cheap bodies. Bodies that can come in any shape or size. What would the world be like if we all had a closet full of blanks and an easy-bake kiln? What would happen to the economy? To the military? To politics? To culture? To entertainment? To sex? With unlimited lives to spend, what would you occupy yourself with?
In Panguitchs Science Fiction Primer (due out sometime next century), chapter one is entitled "Extrapolation." Exhibit one is David Brins Kiln People, wherein the author assumes one giant leap, in this case the above-described ditto technology, and then stops and carefully examines the world from his new perspective. Brins reasoning is sharp, and he offers up surprising ramifications with every turn of the page. The tool of his analysis is Albert Morris, a Sam Spade whos investigating a case with implications for the entire cosmos.
His Moriarty is named Beta, a counterfeiter who forges dittoes of famous people in violation of their copyrights. Albert has tangled with Beta more than once, or at least with copies of him. But this time theres something deeper going on. Alberts investigation, conducted both in person and through a number of dittoes, leads him to the beautiful daughter of Professor Maharal, the inventor who helped transform the world with dittotech. He has been murdered, and both his business partner and his surviving ditto are acting oddly. Albert learns Maharal was conducting new research, secret research which could once more upend society by redefining the limits of dittoing. Not surprisingly, the interests of powerful people are at stake, and Albert realizes he may be in over his head.
The many characters, each with a different agenda, weave in and out of each others deceptions until the reader is dizzy with the twists. Complicating matters are Alberts several dittoes, each a viewpoint character, each the same person but not the same person. It becomes structurally complex, to say the least. Along with being a textbook-worthy example of a science fiction technique, Kiln People is a suspenseful private eye story with all the trappings of classic noir. Brin easily assumes this tone in his writing, expressing more fully the talent for detective stories hinted at in the first Uplift novel, Sundiver (http://www.epinions.com/content_88587341444). Thankfully, he retains a humor and lightness that is lacking in most noir, cyberpunk, or whatever else you might try to compare this novel to.
In addition to the convenience of expendable dittoes who do his legwork for him, Albert is blessed to live in a highly connected world. Brins future is a plausible glimpse at the progression of the information age. The air is filled with bots that record everything, selling it for a price to the intelligent agents that you commission to do your research. To a degree its a realization of Brins prognostications in his non-fiction book The Transparent Society, where he argues that privacy can only be achieved through universal transparency.
Privacy in the context of a hyper-information age becomes a strong secondary theme to Brins primary conceit of dittotech. Together, these two forces define the world of Kiln People, and the puzzles Albert navigates are cut from these materials. The novel works very well, both on the level of a detective story and on the level of extrapolative science fiction. At times, however, it can get out of hand. The increasing strangeness of this future, my own indifference for the cybernoir atmosphere, however playfully handled, and the cosmic conclusion all distanced me from the story. But I did enjoy the book. Brin saturates it with compelling ideas, and the mystery and humor pulled me forward even if I felt no personal investment. Its a smart, well-crafted novel and I do not hesitate to recommend it.
Im a fan of Brins and had my eye on Kiln People. But it was Brians review that put it on my must-read list. Go see what he has to say about the book. His review is worth reading for its own sake.