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by David Brin
Tor Science Fiction, January 2003
568 pages
ISBN: 0765342618

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

David Brin has written over a dozen novels to the delight of his fans. In KILN PEOPLE, Brin demonstrates his writing talent as well as the ability to embrace other genres. In the future, mankind has the ability to clone themselves into ceramic dittos. Everyone has a Standing Wave that makes them who they are, in a sense a soul. Through technological advances society now has the ability to copy this into a ditto that will live for 24 hours. Dittos came in various colors depending on their purpose, for example those created simply for pleasure are white and those who are servants are green. This creates a hierarchy within ditto society that is reminiscent of the racial prejudices from America's not so distant past. The ditto allows people to give into fantasies and desires they would not if their real bodies would be damaged. Also, these golems (dittos) will go to work and accomplish any other task its original does not want to do. Everyone has the choice as to whether they will upload their dittos so they retain the memory of the actions and events "they" participated in. Mankind has now created the ultimate form of entertainment.

Albert Morris is a private detective in this somewhat uncertain world. He is hired by several people, including the founder of Universal Kilns (this company creates the blank dittos for people to upload their Standing Wave), to solve what ultimately becomes one case. There are rumors that Yosil Maharal, an employee at Universal Kilns, now has the ability to duplicate the golems without losing the individualism and power of the original. There are also rumors that a ditto can be downloaded by someone beyond the archie (or the real person). Morris' various clients are interested in this technology to either suppress it or use it for nefarious deeds. Morris' various dittos find themselves racing against the clock to find a solution before their brief life spans end.

As in most science fiction, KILN PEOPLE explores issues relevant to modern society through the guise of the future/ aliens/ other worlds or any other stylistic element to bring the issue to focus without alienating the majority of readers. In this book, the issue is that of death and immortality and who has these rights. Dittos have a limited lifespan of 24 hours; yet several dittos try methods to prolong their lives. This new rumored technology would both allow a form of immortality as well as raise unique ethical issues. KILN PEOPLE questions the very foundation of what being alive is regardless of one's lifespan or color. What constitutes a real individual person and what is merely inorganic?

KILN PEOPLE is a captivating book, which embraces both science fiction's look at the future and a mystery's pacing. To reinforce this blending, Brin includes references to one of the most famous detectives, Sherlock Holmes. Morris views his enemy, Beta, as his Moriarity, Holmes’ archenemy. Brin also includes other references to both genres that any fan would be able to appreciate.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, April 2003

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