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Kiln People

[Kiln People] Kiln People
by David Brin
Published by Tor Books, 2001
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Recommended by: Greg Slade

I have marked David Brin as a talent to watch ever since I first read Startide Rising. Kiln People posits a society in which people can imprint their souls onto clay simulacra called dittos (among other terms) and send those copies out to work, run errands, negotiate deals, etc., and then "inload" when the copies come back. The result is a society in which most people are unemployed, because all the work is done by dittos imprinted by those few with real talents. The result is a leisured society in which no human has to work, because the dittos do everything. It is also an astonishingly stratified society, in which a "realperson" is fiercely protected, but a ditto has virtually no rights.

On one level, this work is a detective novel set in the future. Albert Morris, the protagonist, is a private detective who sends his dittos out on the dangerous cases, and if a few don't come back to report, well, that's just the cost of doing business. Until he ends up losing three dittos on the same day, and begins to wonder what's going on. On another level, it's worth reading, just for the sake of Brin's rich imagination. He takes the golem of mythology, fits it into a high-tech, nearly utopian, future, and shows ways in which the human imagination would think up new crimes and vices in a society where most of the old ones would would be impossible or irrelevant. On yet another level, Brin plays around with the idea of identity: the reader gets to follow several of Morris' dittos through various adventures, and, in amongst the action, reveals some musings about how Morris and his various dittos regard themselves and each other. On still another level yet, Brin speculates upon the "soul", a term which his characters throw around rather blithely, and get offended when one of them starts treating the concept seriously. I'll tell you right out that, in Brin's story universe, Christianity (and every other religion) is wrong, or at least incomplete without the necessary technology to free souls to do what they have always longed to do. Still, it is interesting that Brin, like a surprisingly large number of other SF authors, is addressing spiritual questions in the midst of a materialistic world. (June, 2005)

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