the Little Red Reviewer

Kiln People, by David Brin

Posted on: June 16, 2012

Kiln People,  by Davin Brin

published in 2002

where I got it: purchased used

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If this had been published today, I’m sure it would have started a frenzy of golem-punk stories. And who isn’t fascinated by the idea of golems? A non-person who exists for a fixed amount of time to do your bidding, and then melts away when they are no longer needed. The perfect solution to jobs that are too dangerous or tedious for humans, Dittos are certainly a sort of salvation.

In the near future described in Kiln People, technological advances are in the arena of the weighing and measuring of the human soul. “Ditto-ing” yourself has become so mainstream that many families have a private kiln and storage unit for clay blanks that are delivered daily. Simply lie down on the copier with your head between the tendrils, and a few minutes later a clay “you” sits up from the other table, ready to do manual labor, run errands, run your business, attend your classes, do your homework, or a myriad of other activities you might do during your day. The golem may be clay, but it’s still you. A you with your memories, your soul, your voice, and your mind. At the end of the day hopefully you return home to yourself for inloading, so the original flesh and blood you can get the memories your golem collected during the day.

Color coded to denote internal quality, golem society has it’s own stratified classist attitudes. Designed to only last 24 hours, if the golem can’t get home to inload at the end of the day, it reflexively seeks out a public recycling dumpster, to return to that which it was. The society Brin has created is incredibly fascinating, and was probably my favorite part of the book.

“Maybe we should suggest a 24 hour lifespan to the professor” “Nah, he’d never go for something like that. besides, what could possibly go wrong?”

Albert Morris doesn’t always get his golems home at the end of the day. A private detective specializing in copyright infringement, he often sends him golems into dangerous situations. If they survive twenty four hours to come home and inload, great, but if not, that’s okay too. Besides, they’re just clay, right? Society has become such that unless a realsignature or realthumbprint is required, it’s expected all business transactions are done through dittos. A few fringe groups protest and push for golem rights, but they’re all crazy. Why would something with a 24 hour life span need or want rights, even if it is imprinted with your soul?

ditto? ah no, I’m a ganger, it’s totally different. gangers are cool.

 

When Morris is hired to investigate the disappearance and then death of the famous Universal Kilns researcher Dr. Yosil Maharal he immediately knows something is wrong. Dr. Maharal’s most recent ditto, now a ghost of sorts, is still walking around like nothing has happened, and the tension between ditMarahal and the owner of UK is strange to say the least. To complicate matters, the late Dr. Maharal’s daughter, Ritu, is convinced her father was murdered.

Brin has taken the classic noir mystery and given it a good glazing. Not only do we get chapters from Albert’s point of view, but we also get chapters from his dittos points of view, and all of this action is happening all at the same time. While one grey is at the Universal Kilns headquarters, another gray is agreeing to an independent contract elsewhere, and a basic green is out running errands, while an ebony is at Morris’s house running computer simulations and doing research. It’s completely bizarre, but it actually works brilliantly.

Even with four of him running around, Morris is too stubborn to realize he this mystery is larger than Universal Kilns, larger than simple copyright infringement. By the time he realizes he’s in over his head, it’ll be far too late.

Ripe with puns and wordplay, Kiln People is as smart as it is eye opening. How would the world work when claylife is cheap, when the population of the planet nearly doubles every day with tireless workers who don’t breathe, don’t eat, and don’t require anything but clay? What types of new industries would succeed or fail? As he often does, Brin has opened up a whole new world of wonderfully strange possibilities, fusing soulistics with capitalism, mysticism with the mundane and mythology with the future.

My only complaint is that in the last third of the book, the plot really slows down. This is where everything should be coming together towards a climax, yet instead of keeping the tension high, Brin bogs the story down with some heavy philosophical ideas which would have functioned better, I think, if used earlier in the narrative as some background and world building.

Kiln People is not a short book. It clocks in at over 500 pages, and this isn’t simple summer reading. There are authors we read for pure enjoyment, and there are authors we read because they stimulate other, deeper parts of our minds and force us look at the world in a whole new way. Brin is of the second kind.

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1 Response to "Kiln People, by David Brin"

Wow, this is timely. I randomly found this book at a library sale, debated picking it up, and then finally did. And then you write a great review of it. Thanks.

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