Kiln People

Kiln People

4.3 10
by David Brin

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In a perilous future, disposable duplicate bodies fulfill every citizen's legal and illicit whim. Life as a 24-hour "ditto" is cheap, as Albert Morris knows. A brash investigator with a knack for trouble, he's sent plenty of clay duplicates into deadly peril, then "inloaded" memories from copies that were shot, crushed, drowned . . . all part of a day's work.


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In a perilous future, disposable duplicate bodies fulfill every citizen's legal and illicit whim. Life as a 24-hour "ditto" is cheap, as Albert Morris knows. A brash investigator with a knack for trouble, he's sent plenty of clay duplicates into deadly peril, then "inloaded" memories from copies that were shot, crushed, drowned . . . all part of a day's work.

But when Morris tackles a ring of crooks making bootleg copies of a famous actress, he trips into a secret so explosive it incites open warfare on the streets of Dittotown.

Kiln People is a 2003 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel.

Editorial Reviews

Vernor Vinge
More than any writer I know, David Brin can take scary, important problems and turn them sideways, revealing wonderful opportunities. This talent shows strongly in Kiln People, a novel which is deep and insightful and often hilarious, all at the same time.
Publishers Weekly
Bestselling novelist Brin (Startide Rising; The Postman; etc.) restricts the action to planet Earth, but still allows his imagination to roam the cosmos in this ambitious SF/mystery hybrid whose grasp occasionally exceeds its reach. Thanks to the new technology of imprinting, people in a near-future America can copy their personalities into animated clay bodies (called "dittos" or "golems"), which last a single day. Albert Morris, private investigator, is his own sidekick as he attempts to uncover the murderer of a prominent imprinting research scientist, capture a criminal mastermind specializing in ditto copyright infringement and foil a conspiracy aimed at destroying the major ditto manufacturer and pinning the blame on several Alberts. Brin deftly explores the issues of identity, privacy and work in a world where everyone is supported with a living wage and has ready access to duplication technology. The book features the author's usual style, with a lighter touch and punnish humor abounding amid the hard SF speculation. The duplication of the "ditective" makes for a challenging twist on the standard private eye narrative, allowing Morris to simultaneously lead the reader through three separate (and interacting) plot lines. The hardboiled framework and the humor mix a bit uneasily, as does the social background of a libertarian/socialist U.S.A. The book's major fault lies in the diffusion of most of the tension as expendable dittos replace vulnerable humans for much of the action. Still, the work is brightened by Brin's trademark hardheaded optimism. (Jan. 15) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In a future world where disposable clones handle humanity's day-to-day chores, Albert Morris uses his "dittos" to assist him in his job as a private investigator. When he stumbles upon the knowledge of a new technology that could alter the concept of human nature forever, he becomes part of a bloody and violent street war that threatens the fabric of society and the human race. Brin (The Postman) presents a rich, kaleidoscopic story that challenges the concepts of identity and individuality. For most sf collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Brin (Foundation's Triumph, 1999, etc.) gives the medieval fable of the golem a thoroughgoing, agreeably tongue-in-cheek revamp. Aeneas Polom invented the process whereby nanoclay is kiln-baked into pseudolife, then imprinted with a human's unique Soul Standing Wave. The resulting golem, or "ditto," has 24 hours to accomplish whatever tasks the original wishes; its memories can then be recovered. Now, Yosil Maharal, a big-shot researcher at Polom's Universal Kilns, has mysteriously disappeared. Gumshoe Albert Morris animates three dittos: two general-purpose grays, one green for dull errand-boy duties. The green, a poor copy, goes "frankie" or independent, preferring to visit the beach rather than do Albert's shopping. Arriving at UK HQ, one gray encounters a Yosil Maharal ditto that claims it's all a mistake-but refuses to be interrogated. Albert's gray follows the Yosil ditto when it sneaks off, only to get zapped. Gray # 2, meanwhile, comes to a sticky end; real Yosil turns up dead, having apparently driven off a cliff. Original Albert investigates, only to be shot at by a Polom ditto. Albert's zapped gray wakes, a captive of the Yosil ditto, and finally gains some inkling of what's going on: Yosil has discovered how to extend a ditto's lifespan, and how to transfer the animating principle from one ditto to another-and even permanently from original to ditto. The Yosil ditto is actually the original in a ditto body!

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Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Kiln Books Series, #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.37(d)

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Kiln People

By David Brin, Beth Meacham

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2002 David Brin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7130-0


A Good Head for Wine

... or how Monday's green ditto brings home fond memories of the river ...

It's hard to stay cordial while fighting for your life, even when your life doesn't amount to much.

Even when you're just a lump of clay.

* * *

Some kind of missile — a stone I guess — smacked the brick wall inches away, splattering my face with stinging grit. There wasn't any shelter to cower behind, except an overstuffed trash can. I grabbed the lid and swung it around.

Just in time. Another slug walloped the lid, denting plastic instead of my chest.

Someone had me nailed.

Moments ago, the alley had seemed a good place to hide and catch my breath. But now its chill darkness betrayed me instead. Even a ditto gives off some body heat. Beta and his gang don't carry guns into this part of town — they wouldn't dare — but their slingshots come equipped with infrared sights.

I had to flee the betraying darkness. So while the shooter reloaded, I raised my makeshift shield and dashed for the bright lights of Odeon District.

It was a risky move. The place swarmed with archies, dining at cafés or milling about near classy theaters. Couples strolled arm-in-arm along the quay, enjoying a riverside breeze. Only a few coloreds like me could be seen — mostly waiters serving their bland-skinned betters at canopied tables.

I wasn't going to be welcome in this zone, where owners throng to enjoy their long, sensuous lives. But if I stayed on back streets I'd get hacked into fish food by my own kind. So I took a chance.

Damn. It's crowded, I thought, while picking a path across the plaza, hoping to avoid brushing against any of the sauntering archies. Though my expression was earnest — as if I had a legit reason to be there — I must have stood out like a duck among swans, and not just because of skin color. My torn paper clothes drew notice. Anyway, it's kind of hard to move delicately while brandishing a battered trash lid between your vitals and the alley behind you.

A sharp blow struck the plastic again. Glancing back, I saw a yellow-hued figure lower his slingshot to load another round. Furtive shapes peered from the shadows, debating how to reach me.

I plunged into the crowd. Would they keep shooting and risk hitting a real person?

Ancient instinct — seared into my clay body by the one who made me — clamored to run. But I faced other dangers now — from the archetype human beings surrounding me. So I tried to perform all the standard courtesies, bowing and stepping aside for couples who wouldn't veer or slow down for a mere ditto.

I had a minute or two of false hopes. Women chiefly looked past me, like I didn't exist. Most of the men were more puzzled than hostile. One surprised chap even made way for me, as if I were real. I smiled back. I'll do the same for your ditto someday, chum.

But the next fellow wasn't satisfied when I gave him right of way. His elbow planted a sharp jab, en passant, and pale eyes glittered, daring me to complain.

Bowing, I forced an ingratiatingly apologetic smile, stepping aside for the archie while I tried to focus on a pleasant memory. Think about breakfast, Albert. The fine odors of coffee and fresh-baked muffins. Simple pleasures that I might have again, if I made it through the night.

"I" will definitely have them again, said an inner voice. Even if this body doesn't make it.

Yes, came a reply. But that won't be me. Not exactly.

I shook off the old existential quandary. Anyway, a cheap utility rox like me can't smell. At the moment, I could barely grasp the concept.

The blue-eyed fellow shrugged and turned away. But the next second, something struck pavement near my left foot, ricocheting across the plaza.

Beta had to be desperate, shooting stones at me amid a throng of real citizens! People glanced around. Some eyes narrowed toward me.

And to think, this morning started so well.

I tried to hurry, making a few more meters farther across the plaza before I was stopped by a trio of young men — well-dressed young archies — intentionally blocking my path.

"Will you look at this mule?" the tall one said. Another, with fashionably translucent skin and reddish eyes, jabbed a finger at me. "Hey, ditto! What's the rush? You can't still be hoping for an afterlife! Who's gonna want you back, all torn up like that?"

I knew how I must look. Beta's gang had pummeled me good before I managed to escape. Anyway, I was only an hour or two short of expiration and my cracking pseudoflesh showed clear signs of enzyme decay. The albino guffawed at the trash can lid I was wielding as a shield. He sniffed loudly, wrinkling his nose.

"It smells bad, too. Like garbage. Spoilin' my appetite. Hey! Maybe we have cause for a civil complaint, you reckon?"

"Yeah. How about it, golem?" the tall one leered. "Give us your owner's code. Cough up a refund on our dinner!"

I raised a placating hand. "Come on, fellas. I'm on an urgent errand for my original. I really do have to get home. I'm sure you hate it when your dittos are kept from you."

Beyond the trio, I glimpsed the bustle and noise of Upas Street. If only I could make it to the taxi stand, or even the police kiosk on Defense Avenue. For a small fee they'd provide refrigerated sanctuary, till my owner came for me.

"Urgent, eh?" the tall one said. "If your rig still wants you, even in this condition, I'll bet he'd pay to get you back, eh?"

The final teen, a stocky fellow with deep brown skin and hair done in a wire cut, appeared more sympathetic.

"Aw, leave the poor greenie alone. You can see how badly it wants to get home and spill. If we stop it, the owner may fine us."

A compelling threat. Even the albino wavered, as if about to back off.

Then Beta's shooter in the alley fired again, hitting my thigh below the shielding trash can lid.

Anyone who has duped and inloaded knows that pseudoflesh can feel pain. Fiery agony sent me recoiling into one of the youths, who pushed me away, shouting.

"Get off, you stinky thing! Did you see that? It touched me!"

"Now you'll pay, you piece of clay," added the tall one. "Let's see your tag."

Still shuddering, I managed to hobble around so he stood between me and the alley. My pursuers wouldn't dare shoot now, and risk hitting an archie.

"Fool," I said. "Can't you see I've been shot?"

"So?" The albino's nostrils flared. "My dits get mangled in org-wars all the time. You don't see me griping about it. Or bringing a fight to the Odeon, of all places! Now let's see that tag."

He held out a hand and I reflexively reached for the spot under my forehead where the ID implant lay. A golem-duplicate has to show his tag to a realperson, on demand. This incident was going to cost me ... that is, it would cost my maker. The semantic difference would depend on whether I made it home in the next hour.

"Fine. Call a cop or arbiter," I said, fumbling at the flap of pseudoskin. "We'll see who pays a fine, punk. I'm not playing simbat games. You're impeding the double of a licensed investigator. Those shooting at me are real criminals ..."

I glimpsed figures emerging from the alley. Yellow-skinned members of Beta's gang, straightening paper garments and trying to look innocuous amid the crowd of strolling archies, bowing and giving way like respectful errand boys, not worth noticing. But hurrying.

Damn. I never saw Beta this desperate before.

"... and my brain holds evidence that may be crucial in solving an important case. Do you want to be responsible for preventing that?"

Two of the teens drew back, looking unsure. I added pressure. "If you don't let me get about my owner's business, he'll post a charge for restraint of legal commerce!"

We were attracting a crowd. That could slow Beta's bunch, but time wasn't on my side.

Alas, the third punk — with the artificially translucent skin — wasn't daunted. He tapped his wrist screen.

"Giga. I got enough juice in the bank to cover a blood fine. If we're gonna pay this dit's owner, let's have the joy of shutting it down hard."

He seized my arm, clenching with the strength of well-toned muscles — real muscles, not my anemic imitations. The grip hurt, but worse was knowing I'd overplayed my hand. If I'd kept my mouth shut, they might have let me go. Now the data in this brain would be lost and Beta would win after all.

The young man cocked his fist dramatically, playing for the crowd. He meant to snap my neck with a blow.

Someone muttered, "Let the poor thing go!" But a noisier contingent egged him on.

Just then a crash reverberated across the courtyard. Voices cursed harshly. Onlookers turned toward a nearby restaurant, where diners at an outdoor table hopped away from a mess of spilled liquid and shattered glassware. A green-skinned busboy dropped his tray and murmured apologies, using a rag to wipe glittering shards off the upset customers. Then he slipped, taking one of the infuriated patrons along with him in a spectacular pratfall. Laughter surged from the crowd as the restaurant's maître-dit rushed out, berating the greenie and seeking to appease the wet clients.

For an instant no one was looking at me except the albino, who seemed miffed over losing his audience.

The waiter hammed it up, continuing to dab at upset archies with a sodden cloth. But for a moment the green head briefly glanced my way. His quick nod had meaning.

Take your chance and get out of here.

I didn't need urging. Slipping my free hand into a pocket, I pulled out a slim card — apparently a standard credit disk. But squeezing it thus made silvery light erupt along one edge, emitting a fierce hum.

The albino's pinkish eyes widened. Dittos aren't supposed to carry weapons, especially illegal ones. But the sight didn't scare him off. His grin hardened and I knew I was in the clutches of a sportsman, a gambler, willing even to risk realflesh if it offered something new. An experience.

The grip on my arm intensified. I dare you, his ratty glare said.

So I obliged him, slashing down hard. The sizzling blade cut through fleshy resistance.

For an instant, pain and outrage seemed to fill all the space between us. His pain or mine? His outrage and surprise, for sure — and yet there was a split second when I felt united with the tough young bravo by a crest of empathy. An overwhelming connection to his teenage angst. To the wounded, self-important pride. The agony of being one isolated soul among lonely billions.

It could have been a costly hesitation, if it lasted more than a heartbeat. But while his mouth opened to cry out, I swiveled and made my getaway, ducking through the roiling crowd, followed by enraged curses as the youth brandished a gory stump.

My gory stump. My dismembered hand clenched spasmodically at his face till he recoiled and flung the twitching thing away in disgust.

With that same backward glance I also spotted two of Beta's yellows, dodging among disturbed archies, impertinently shoving several aside while they slipped stones into their wrist catapults, preparing to fire at me. In all this confusion they were unworried about witnesses, or mere fines for civil ditsobedience. They had to stop me from delivering what I knew.

To prevent me from spilling the contents of my decomposing brain.

I must have been quite a spectacle, running lopsidedly in a shredded tunic with one amputated arm dripping, hollering like mad for startled archies to get out of the way. I wasn't sure at that moment what I could accomplish. Expiration senility might have already begun setting in, made worse by pseudoshock and organ fatigue.

Alerted by the commotion, a cop rushed into the square from Fourth Street, clomping in ungainly body armor while his blue-skinned dittos fanned out, agile and unprotected, needing no orders because each one knew the proto's wishes more perfectly than a well-drilled infantry squad. Their sole weapon — needle-tipped fingers coated with knockout oil — would stop any golem or human cold.

I veered away from them, weighing options.

Physically, my ditto hadn't hurt anyone. Still, things were getting dicey. Real people had been inconvenienced, even perturbed. Suppose I got away from Beta's yellow thugs, and made it into a police freezer. My original could wind up getting socked with enough low-grade civil judgments to wipe out the reward for tracking Beta down in the first place. The cops might even get careless about icing me in time. They've been doing that a lot lately.

Several private and public cameras had me in view, I bet. But well enough to make a strong ID? This greenie's face was too bland — and blurred even more by the fists of Beta's gang — for easy recognition. That left one choice. Take my tagged carcass where nobody could recover or ID it. Let 'em guess who started this riot.

I staggered toward the river, shouting and waving people off.

Nearing the quayside embankment, I heard a stern, amplified voice cry, "Halt!" Cop-golems carry loudspeakers where most of us have synthetic sex organs ... a creepy substitution that gets your attention.

From the left, I heard several sharp twangs. A stone struck my decaying flesh while another bounced off pavement, caroming toward the real policeman. Maybe now the blues would focus on Beta's yellows. Cool.

Then I had no more time to think as my feet ran out of surface. They kept pumping through empty space, out of habit, I guess ... till I hit the murky water with a splash.

* * *

I suppose there's one big problem with my telling this story in first person — the listener knows I made it home in one piece. Or at least to some point where I could pass on the tale. So where's the suspense?

All right, so it didn't end quite there, with my crashing in the river, though maybe it should have. Some golems are designed for combat, like the kind hobbyists send onto gladiatorial battlefields ... or secret models they're rumored to have in Special Forces. Other dittos, meant for hedonism, sacrifice some élan vital for hyperactive pleasure cells and high-fi memory inloading. You can pay more for a model with extra limbs or ultra senses ... or one that can swim.

I'm too cheap to spring for fancy options. But a feature I always include is hyperoxygenization — my dittos can hold their breath a long time. It's handy in a line of work where you never know if someone's going to gas you, or throw you in the sealed trunk of a car, or bury you alive. I've sorbed memories of all those things. Memories I wouldn't have today if the ditto's brain died too soon.

Lucky me.

The river, cold as lunar ice, swirled past me like a wasted life. A small voice spoke up as I sank deeper in the turbid water — a voice I've heard on other occasions.

Give up now. Rest. This isn't death. The real you will continue. He'll carry on with your dreams.

The few you had left.

True enough. Philosophically speaking, my original was me. Our memories differed by just one awful day. A day that he spent barefoot, in boxer shorts, doing officework at home while I went rooting through the city's proxy underworld, where life is cheaper than in a Dumas novel. My present continuity mattered very little on the grand scale of things.

I answered the small voice in my usual way.

Screw existentialism.

Every time I step into the copier, my new ditto absorbs survival instincts a billion years old.

I want my afterlife.

By the time my feet touched the slimy river bottom, I was determined to give it a shot. I had almost no chance, of course, but maybe fortune was ready to deal from a fresh deck. Also, another motive drove me on.

Don't let the bad guys win. Never let them get away with it.

Maybe I didn't have to breathe, but movement was still tricky as I fought to get my feet planted, getting headway through the mud, with everything both slippery and viscous at the same time. It would have been hard to get traction with a whole body, but this one's clock was ticking out.

Visibility? Almost nil, so I maneuvered by memory and sense of touch. I considered trying to fight my way upriver to the ferry docks, but then recalled that Clara's houseboat lay moored just a kilometer or so downstream from Odeon Square. So I stopped fighting the heavy current and worked with it instead, putting most of my effort into staying near the riverbank.

It might have helped if I'd been made with variable-setting pain sensors. Lacking that optional feature — and cursing my own cheapness — I grimaced in agony while pulling one foot after another through the sucking muck. The hard slog left me time to ponder the phenomenological angst faced by creatures of my kind.

I'm me. As little life as I have left, it still feels precious. Yet I gave up what remains, jumping in the river to save some other guy a few credits.

Some guy who'll make love to my girlfriend and relish my accomplishments.


Excerpted from Kiln People by David Brin, Beth Meacham. Copyright © 2002 David Brin. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Kiln People 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. David Brin brought forth some very interesting ideas and wrapped them in a mystery that was both spellbinding and philisophical. I can't wait for his next book to come out.
jridley More than 1 year ago
There are several social issues that are very well poked at in this story. I found it very entertaining and thought provoking. I read some reviews that they didn't like the ending but I didn't have a problem with it. The puns got on my nerves a few times. A little is fine, it gives a sense of verisimilitude to the story to think that some terms would be invented with puns in them around the technology, but at times Brin lays it on so heavily that it's distracting. This only happens for a few pages so I can overlook it. I should note that there are a few (probably 30 or so) typos in the Nook Book edition (I have the ones I've noticed highlighted if B&N wants to contact me to point them out). Not really bad but irritating at times.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my FAVORITE book ever, so far. If you like sci-fi, this is the book you HAVE to read. It makes you stop and think about many facets of this 'era'. It not only keeps you guessing, but there are some good laughs along the way. It's basically about a detective living in a world where cloning yourself, to use for chores and thrills, is the norm. He and his clones get caught in the middle of a huge conspiracy as well as a second surprise plot. It's a fairly long book, but you won't even notice as you fly through the pages.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Imagine a world where you can make copies of yourself for the day ¿ to shop, to run errands, to go to school. At the end of the day, you can upload memories from your dittos. Private detective Albert Morris lives in this world - sending out copies to do legwork, to sit in long stakeouts, and to meet with clients. When Albert is asked to investigate the disappearance of the inventor of the ditto technology, the mysteries start piling up and the action gets fast and furious. Will Morris and his dittos be able to prevent dueling madmen from taking new copying technology a step too far? Brin explores a fascinating premise and has put a lot of thought into the details. How would dittos be used and abused? What would the different protests be? What massive changes would society go through? Just how would someone deal with knowing they're the disposable copy? Brin really makes you think about the consequences of the technology. Despite the heavy topics, but Brin keeps the tone light with puns and humor mixed with the ambiance of a hardboiled detective novel. Sometimes it works, and sometimes the effect is a bit jarring. The best part was watching all the different Alberts diverge with different experiences as they worked on separate aspects of the mystery. It was fun following the antics of Morris and his dittos, but the plot suffers along the way. It spirals into an over-the-top metaphysical knot that feels disconnected from the rest of the book. Since the book had a noir-like feel, I think it would have been better to have an ending scaled to that instead of reaching for grand, mystic insights. Still a good book with thought-provoking concepts, but it could have been better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a devoted Brin fan and will read anything with his name on it. I have enjoyed most of what he has written but some stand out more than others. 'Kiln People' is one such book. The uplift universe is great but one gets overwhelmed after a while. Both 'Earth' and 'Kiln People' take off in a new direction and both are more hard SF than the Uplift novels. As with most of Brin's writings, K.P. presents the social impacts of future technologies. This is the hallmark of any master SF author worth his/her salt.