Kiln people is a novel in the vein of “classic” sf. Not because it reads as dated, but because it takes an idea and runs with it, asking “what would society be like if X happened? What would be the benefits? What would be the drawbacks?”
Originally published in 2001, it’s part book of ideas, part hardboiled mystery.
Brief plot summary
In the future, disposable, 24-hour bodies are cheap and widely available. Instead of physically going in to work, people upload a copy of their minds into a “ditto” and send it to work in their stead. At the end of the day, the “original” can choose to inload those experiences into their own minds. Albert Morris is a “ditective” (get it? he’s a detective but he uses dittos. Don’t worry, it’s the most forced part of this book). Tasked with solving the murder of a prominent scientist, he and his veritable army of duplicates will face the expected questions of identity and the barrier between “human” and “other”.
So how is it?
It’s pretty good.
Brin does a fairly good job of meshing the sf and mystery elements of the book – better than Lethem does in Gun, with occasional music at least. There might still be some tension but Brin succeeds partially because of his attention to detail. Morris embraces the professional advantages supplied by ready access to an endless supply of bodies.
The implications of disposable bodies, societal, psychological, and theological are heavily investigated in the book. The latter element is probably the book’s biggest stumbling block – towards the end of the book things get distinctly “cosmic” and it detracts from the hardboiled-ness of the story to some extent. It will also probably turn off some readers as its not entirely in keeping with the tone of the majority of the book (though it is entirely in keeping with the book’s thematic content).
I don’t really have a ton to say about it because in some ways it’s very high concept: people can make duplicates of themselves that only last for 24 hours. Consider the implications. It’s well executed but there’s not much else I have to say about it beyond that, honestly.
I’ve recommended this to several people, but none of them has actually read it yet. Some of them have picked up other titles by Brin and recommended them back to me, but this is the only book by him that I’ve read.
Cross recommendations from this blog
Gun, with occasional music (This post was not published when I wrote this one so I was unable to add the link yet. If I remember I’ll come back and add it in later)
other titles worth checking out
Do androids dream of electric sheep? / Philip K. Dick
The surrogates / Robert Venditti ; Brett Weldele [the graphic novel – I can’t speak to the quality of the film]
Idoru / William Gibson
Darwinia / Robert Charles Wilson – This is a weaker recommendation than the others