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Kiln People 108

Doug Dante writes "Albert Morris is a detective, but he rarely places his real body in danger. Instead, each day he rises and imprints specialized dittos to do his legwork, review the evidence, meet others, and run errands while he stays home, tends his garden, and keeps his real body in good physical condition." Read more about dittos (and other manifestations of future technology) as portrayed in David Brin's Kiln People; Doug's review of the book continues below.
Kiln People
author David Brin
pages 460
publisher Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
rating 7
reviewer Doug Dante
ISBN 0765303558
summary Detective Albert Morris tries to solve a murder, unraveling layers of intrigue in a future world where people can make ditto copies of themselves.

But after a brief prelude (reminiscent of the introductory scene of Indiana Jones), on the first full day of Kiln People Morris and his dittos are pulled by players in a great game seeking to use him to their own ends. He is hired by Ritu Maharal when her father Yosil Maharal dies in an unexpected and rare car accident. Yosil Maharal and his partner Vic Kaolin founded the corporate giant UK (Universal Kilns) after pioneering soulistics and inventing dittotech years earlier; changing the world forever.

We are introduced to a cast of characters through the first person narration of Albert and his dittos, each of whom, like the blind men touching an elephant in the Indian fable, sees a different picture of events. Albert is the heart of the book, and we understand his motivations and how his physical manifestation, as ditto or person, affects his outlook, attitude, and actions. However, the motivations of other characters including Yosil Maharal, his partner Vic Kaolin, his daughter Ritu, and Albert's mysterious nemesis the dittotech pirate Beta remain cloaked -- disappointingly so as the book closes with some, but not all, of our questions probably, but not certainly, answered in speculative form.

Kiln People is a bit long. Through the first half, as Albert and his ditto selves picked up the trails of their inevitably converging cases, the shadowy figures of Vic Kaolin and Yosil Maharal were mixed in with a cast of other minor characters including Pal, Carla, Gineen Wammaker, the Maestra, and Queen Irene. I had to flip back at least once to recall which one was actually supposed to be dead!

There's a lot of action here. The book features bar fights, urban gun battles, guerrilla surveillance insertions, sabotage, and plenty of danger for the characters. (It could make a good movie with the right script and director). But the characters involved in many of these harrowing situations are themselves dittos, and like the citizens of the Kiln People world, I became desensitized to violence against all dittos, and disinterested in the plight of the characters.

Through the second half, perhaps because of previous experience reading David Brin's previous book Earth, certain future events became rather apparent, and I did find myself eventually wading through the last 100 pages or so just so that I could get through to the foreseeable climax.

That said, Kiln People tied neatly some nagging mysteries as it closed. The book gives a realistic portrayal of a world which had integrated the disruptive technology of ditto tech, and it succeeded in presenting some interesting scientific and speculative material too.

This book shared many themes with David Brin's previous book Earth including the attempted/accidental creation of a deity, people seeking to be Godlike, the threat of mass human destruction, a lone mad genius, and the unity of all humanity within a greater entity. Also, this world, like the world of Earth featured the end of secrecy the dangers of technology, and a semi-libertarian legal system ( Called "the Big Deregulation" here). However, the setting, story and ideas of Kiln People, while reminiscent of Earth, are substantially independent.

If you enjoyed Earth, you will probably also enjoy Kiln People as I did. It's a fair story wrapping interesting ideas in a realistic but fantastic setting. However, it can be a bit long and obtuse.

You can purchase Kiln People from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Kiln People

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  • B- (Score:4, Funny)

    by tps12 ( 105590 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @10:35AM (#5101470) Homepage Journal
    While this book report was well-written, and the handwriting is flawless, I was looking for more discussion of the book's themes and the author's use of literary techniques such as metaphor and simile. The plot summary should be very limited. Rewrite for a B+.
  • What are dittos? (Score:5, Informative)

    by El Volio ( 40489 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @10:40AM (#5101494) Homepage
    The review never actually explains it... there's another review [metroland.net] out there which does, fortunately.
    • From reading that link they sound quite similar to Greg Bear's constructs as used in Eon. But more throwaway - it's an interesting concept.
    • Re:What are dittos? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Big Sean O ( 317186 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @12:40PM (#5102354)
      Ditto's are androids, copied from the original human. They have the original's memories up to the time of imprinting. The 'dits' have a limited lifespan (usually about a day). Then they tend to fall apart.

      Dits come in different styles, some are cheap and made for errands. Some are optimized for sensation (you send the dit on an adventure and 'upload' the resulting memories). The obsidian dits are optimized for thinking and concentration. They're like hackers all juiced up on jolt.

      Having disposable labor results in mass unemployment. For instance, the best janitor in the city can make 50 dittos every morning, and send them out to work. After their work day, they turn themselves in to the 'reprocessing center'. He gets the money and the other 49 janitors who used to have jobs end up on the dole.

      Of course, that makes the lynch-pin of the economy, makers of the 'dittos' and the 'ditto-ing' process, incredibly rich AND incredibly vulnerable.

      Albert Morris has a real job. He's a detective. His dittos are 'ditectives' and they make him some nice coin. When he (they) gets involved in a complicated plot involving the 'dittotech masters'.

      David Brin is known for novels that shift the POV. With Kiln People, he gets to shift the POV to realAlbert and all his 'dits'. This results in one of Brin's better developed characters. You even start to like his 'dits' as they change over time.

      IMHO, Brin tends to get messy at the end of his novels. He usually throws everything and the kitchen sink in the last 100 pages. Heaven's Reach was one of the worst examples, the entire book departs from Gigo and goes to a black hole, distant galaxys, a dyson sphere, and extra dimensions... Kiln People gets a little convoluted in the end, but it's a good story.
    • Made out of clay, lives to carry out instructions, etc. Are there any other Jewish mythology references in the book?

  • FP... (Score:3, Funny)

    by sisukapalli1 ( 471175 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @10:45AM (#5101523)
    Damn! Would have been fp if I didn't get into an argument with my ditto.

  • by On Lawn ( 1073 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @10:45AM (#5101524) Journal
    Its not unusual to see such themes as open information in his books. David Brin is active on the NPR front promoting one of the few alternate plans that attempts to stop INS detentions *and* terrorist activity in one fell swoop.

    His essay "The Transparent Society" calls for open information that can be used in social policing and accountability. Much of what he models this on came from observing news groups and other (i think he calls them) militant internet movements. Linux itself is one of those movements he mentioned.

    If he did use the word militant, it was more a commantary on the way these groups police themselves, and how they band together to wage information war against those they don't like. In Slashdot's case that would be the RIAA, MPAA. For Linux, it would be whatever would try to keep us from hacking our own kernel.

    Whats interesting about this is its Orwellian overtones, but lack of a centralized big brother. Anyway, as far as idelogues go I probably like Brin more then say Chomsky or Kato, although they have their simularities.

    OnRoad: [onlawn.net]Hacking that which costs more and is more deadly.
    • I haven't read the book yet. Although, I did have the pleasure of hearing David Brin speak at a banquet for the Los Alamos Neutron Scattering Workshop this week. One theme I walked out with was: deterrence only goes so far; we as a society need resilience. Quite a powerful message at a National Lab whose primary task in National Security (yea, deterrence.)
  • I thought this was a Brett Favre biography.
  • It's not clear from the reviee what these dittoes are. If they are clones, it's rather unfeasible - one cannot project your will onto another person except via intensive effort.

    If they are androids, that's far more likely. I fully expect that in the far future people will be able to willfully control constructed apparatus at a level of sophistication that makes them essentially a double for the original person.

    • Re:Clones? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by benwb ( 96829 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:03AM (#5101621)
      They're somewhere between the two. In the book there's no need to project your will onto the ditto's because they are you- including all of your memories. They also have a very limited life span (a couple weeks at the most), and their only shot at living (even just in memory) is to get back home and upload their memories to their creator.
    • Re:Clones? (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "one cannot project your will onto another person except via intensive effort."

      Really? My girlfriend seems able to do this quite easily.

      Does that mean I'm a dit-

      I've got to clean some dishes now. Goodbye.
  • by telstar ( 236404 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @10:48AM (#5101537)
    "Instead, each day he rises and imprints specialized dittos to do his legwork, review the evidence, meet others, and run errands while he stays home, tends his garden, and keeps his real body in good physical condition."
  • Dittos (Score:2, Informative)

    by koan ( 80826 )
    This is not his best work, it's almost as though he took a bet to write this one.
    The discussion of the soul space did bring up some interesting ideas and ways to look at souls and the concept of religion.
    Over all a decent read though certainly not his best stuff.
  • Cheaper (Score:2, Informative)

    by Spoons ( 26950 )

    If you want it amazon.com has it cheaper [amazon.com]
    • Are you sure that you want to deal with Spamazon?
  • gross (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rossjudson ( 97786 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @10:59AM (#5101600) Homepage
    I've been trying to read this lately, mostly over lunch. Big mistake. There are ditto bodies melting all over the place. It's one of the most violent things I've read in a long time. Yuck.
    And here's the thing: I disagree with a fundamental premise of the book. Brin's constructed a world where you send your ditto (copy) out to do things for you. It lives a very short time (24 hours or whatever). You can pull its memories back into your "real" self, if it physically survives. The dittos are treated really badly; shot at, spat on, you name it, because they're disposable.
    But if these memories are coming back to the real people, why would dittos be treated so badly? Some kind of "net good" effect would happen, I'd think...where people would do unto others etc...
    Upshot? Nasty, violent society that isn't much fun to read about, so far.
    • You have the option to not inload the ditto's memories if you don't want to. That's one of the things they mention under the "people sure do strange things" topic. There are people who deliberately make dittos to go out and do things with the understanding that the dittos will NEVER return for inloading! The dittos that are treated really badly are the ones that don't make it back, or that you choose not to inload if they do make it back, so there's no incentive to be nice. It says at the beginning that the hero is one of the few people that actually do inload memories from damaged/brutalized dittos, so the implication is that in the society as a whole, those memories are lost.
    • I agree that the premise was implausible in terms of people mistreating the dittos. In fact, I found it quite offensive, as Brin dusted off all of the worst abuses of the slavery era and presented them unapologetically as part of this new society. Dittos must step aside when the humans come along, they must sit in the back of the bus, they must bow and scrape in an offensive Steppin Fetchit fashion. And yet these are people who, from their perspective, were human only a few hours before! It's absurd to believe that people would accept such mistreatment from their fellow man just because they happen to be made of clay. It's like racism brought to the highest degree.

      I also thought it was crazy that dittos would go to work in the factories every morning knowing that they would *die* at the end of the day! And it doesn't bother them! Either they are the most elevated philosphers ever, or there's something in the ditto brain which keeps it from worrying. But that just pushes the problem back to the human who gets into the machine to copy himself - would you do it, knowing there was a 50-50 chance you would wake up as a clay person whose lot in life was to work hard for a day and then die? It's crazy.

      The idea of the dittos is fascinating, but Brin's extrapolations don't make sense, and his insensitivity to the horrors of ditto slavery is quite disturbing.
  • The reviewer keeps referring to "Earth" as Brin's "previous book." "Earth" was written in 1991. If you've read nothing of Brin since 1991 then you haven't read too much Brin.
    • In the U.K, the paperback version actually is titled "Kil'n People." I've asked David if the title was a deliberate pun, since so many dittos die, but he doesn't seem to want to say if it was or not (which also leaves me wondering if I gave him the idea in the first place). Nobody so far has mentioned the incredible number of puns in the novel, which come increasingly frequently through the end. David did admit that he held back some of the worst puns he imagined.

  • I thought this was a book about rednecks!

    Kiln, MS [mapquest.com] - Hometown of Green Bay QB Brett Favre

    This isn't troll/flamebait - I come from the area, so I have the right to say that. :)
  • Excellent book (Score:4, Insightful)

    by johnburton ( 21870 ) <johnb@jbmail.com> on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:09AM (#5101648) Homepage
    I read this book a while ago and rate it as one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's got intesting ideas, the characters are likeable (even if 4 of the characters are really the same person) and it's written in a style which makes it really easy to read. I have to admit that the last 25% of the book doesn't quite match up to the promise shown by the start but as a good fun read it's an excellent book. I'd like to read more books set in the same work and hope he's working on some more!
  • by hardaker ( 32597 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:18AM (#5101705) Homepage
    If you like this book, you might check out some really good 40s and 50s detective books about a detective named Nero Wolfe who never leaves his house. Excellent books.
  • When a friend of mine said he was going to loan me a book by this name (about a year ago), I replied "Killin' People? Sounds like a great book!" When he told me what it was reallly about, I never bothered to read it.

    • If you enjoyed Earth, you will probably also enjoy Kiln People as I did. It's a fair story wrapping interesting ideas in a realistic but fantastic setting. However, it can be a bit long and obtuse.
    I really enjoyed the Kiln People, mainly because the plot was very original (as far as I know :-) -the whole ditto idea was very cool.

    That said, I read Kiln People after reading Earth (David Brin was kind enough to give me an autographed copy when I visited his house), and reading Earth was an even better experience. I would recommend most of Brin's books (although I never finished either the book of movie of the Postman).


  • I read this book a year ago! What gives? I mean, I enjoyed it and all, but it seems to be a little late for doing reviews. What's next, a Fellowship of the Ring review?
  • " Instead, each day he rises and imprints specialized dittos to do his legwork, review the evidence, meet others, and run errands while he stays home, tends his garden..."

    This sounds pretty much how TV detective Nero Wolfe worked. And wasn't that much what "Jake and the Fatman" was all about ?`

    "and keeps his real body in good physical condition."

    Except for that part.
  • Hasn't Brin lifted the idea of people making short-lived copies of themselves from the Toons in Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (WCRR) by Gary Wolfe?

    In that book, the cartoon actors could spawn doppelgangers to act as stunt doubles.

    I haven't read Brin's book (although it sounds interesting), and I think it very unlikely that he's lifted more than that idea (WCRR features lethal assaults with custard pies for instance:).

    And yes, AFAIK, WCRR was the basis for the Who Framed Roger Rabbit film

    • Several years ago I had an idea for a story where you could download your mind into an electronic box that could be fitted onto another person, and would use their body in a sort of "puppet" mode. Then later you could upload your experiences again, just like in Kiln People. Things would get interesting when one of the puppet people (who are usually destitute and are doing this for the $$$) goes missing, and the original person has to track him down. Of course I never wrote the story but I was pleasantly surprised to see a similar idea in Kiln People. Good ideas can show up independently in different places so I don't think it's fair to say he lifted the idea from anywhere.

      A similar story is "The Terminal Experiment", by Robert J. Sawyer. Somebody creates 3 AI versions of himself, and modifies 2 of them in ways that might alter their sanity, and then they all escape into "the net". I really liked that story.
      • Your idea has parallels with some of the concepts behind Rudy Rucker's Wetware series, but an obviously different, and original expression.

        I'm not expressing disapproval when I say "lifted"; it's been going forever and I think it's A Good Thing. I wouldn't be surprised to find similar parallels in the writings of Plato (don't hold me to this assertion, I haven't read enough to be sure).

    • I was a Kiln People reader / critiquer.

      I can testify that Dr. Brin hadn't read the Roger Rabbit novel when he came up with Kil'n People, so the 'dit' concept evolved on its own.

      I did mention the parallels it to him!
    • There's no such thing as a new concept. WCRR was 1988. Thunder Agents' Noman [toonopedia.com] first appeared in 1965. I always thought Noman was a great idea, and was reminded of it when I recently picked up the Brin book.

  • by zapfie ( 560589 )
    Yeah.. I really enjoyed Kiln People. But then I got sent to prison..
  • I loved the first two hundred pages of this book. After that, it got incredibly boring. This book is roughly three times longer than it needs to be. I never finished it.
  • I like how Brin names one of the characters "Vic Kaolin". Kaolin is a type of very fine clay, only found in Georgia (US, not Russia) used to make china. :)

  • I wonder if it'd be more or less interesting if each copy could transceive its experiences in real time remotely to the 'original', this would be particularly useful to a PI..

    Also, by the time you're able to ditto a person, surely you can also alter their time perception? Could be handy for stuff like long-distance space travel, but only if you could put the personality matrix in silicon.. But even a slight time perception change would give you more "time" to think about something..
  • One of the few sci-fi books in the last few decades to do the old trick of imagining a radical technology and working through the social consequences. The detective diction is a bit hokey, and has been done better in sci-fi - for instance by Jonathan Lethem in Gun, with Occassional Music [barnesandnoble.com] - but the working out of a radical technological premise hasn't been.
  • The most important part of that book, to me, was how that future society dealt with intellectual property and privacy.

    Currently, IP is often a criminal matter, and we tie up police and attorneys general with it. In Brin's world, IP claims get enforced through private investigation (not necessarily by the IP owner), civil actions and (possibly stiff) financial penalties. The whole system pays for itself. The same technique can also be applied to computer hacking: private enforcement and civil action, as opposed to the criminal approach we take today.

    In terms of privacy, in Brin's world, there is a huge number of networked webcams and people trade in their content. As far as I can tell, that would even be legal today. And using such information, you can reconstruct what people are doing, where they are going, who they are meeting with. That pretty much seems inevitable.

    Furthermore, most information that is exchanged between people in a non-personal way is public: business agreements, inventions, contracts, etc. (Presumably, your pillow talk and recorded personal journal would remain private, at least until your death.) You have the option of buying secrecy for a limited term, but you must put the information in escrow with a company that ensures that the information does become public after the agreed term. I think this is what we should do for computer software source code, trade secrets, tax returns, and a lot of other information.

  • http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/8/4/131935/4402
  • The beginning of the book is neat. It has mystery, it's fairly funny, the futurism is cool and well (not perfectly, but well) thought out.

    The ending of the book, like the ending of Earth (and of the last uplift books, and everything else David Brin has ever written) is pointless mysto-magical claptrap. Once the book starts to wind down it becomes dreadfully predictable.

    So, the first half, which the reviewer didn't much care for, is a fine, fun mystery/futuristic novel with an unusual hook (story told from multiple viewpoints which are really one person) which is skillfully used to tell a complex story.

    The last 100 pages are something of a letdown, they're predictable and they drag on endlessly.

    My advice: read the book until the mystery is solved, and then skip to the last twenty pages for the conclusion.
    • The ending of the book, like the ending of Earth (and of the last uplift books, and everything else David Brin has ever written) is pointless mysto-magical claptrap. Once the book starts to wind down it becomes dreadfully predictable.

      I'd say Herbert, Zelazny, and Vinge can get away with the mystical angle, Brin cannot - but he keeps trying for some reason.

      The sad thing is that there is so little good SF that I keep reading Brin despite the weak endings.

  • I mean come on:

    Kil'n People

    I was expecting an O.J. autobiography and all I got was derivative science-fiction.
  • IMO, Brin's strength is his ability to take a single idea (in this case, dittos) and fashion a cohesive society around it. He obviously goes into a lot of thought about how the technology would affect life in general, both in business and recreation.

    Such insight occasionally leads to honest-to-goodness (accurate) predictions of social change, such as the description of the proto-WWW in Earth. I would agree that Brin tends to lapse into a sort of cosmic-mystic dogma to tie up loose ends, but that's typical sf.

    Every author tries to achieve something profound, whether it's the elegant simplicity of a simple premise explained or a space station blowing up.

  • Since several people have asked...

    A Ditto is a short term copy of a person. A person will get into a special machine which scans the person, both a physical scan and a detailed mental scan, and uses that information to mold a piece of "clay" into a copy of the person.

    I forget exactly where they get the clay from, i believe it is at least in part actual clay with special properties that's dug up in limited areas, but i may be mistaken, but there is certainly other stuff mixed in with it.

    There are different qualities of clay you can get, which result in different qualities of dittos. (It may also relate to the type of scanning method used.) Some people will create several dittos of different types depending on what they need to get done during the day.

    The Dittos can be colored like a real person, but that goes against the prevailign etiquette. Instead the dittos are color coded to indicate which kind they are, so menials will be solid Red, the highest quality will be Gold, etc.

    Most dittos last for about 24 hours, maybe a little longer. If they return home within that time, they and the original can get back into the machine, the ditto will be scanned, and the memories imprinted on the brain of the original.

    This is half the method of "controlling," the dittos. Since they have all the knowledge of the original, they obviously know they are going to expire in about a day, so the only way they have of leaving a lasting legacy is to get back home and reimprint. Of course a lot of originals will refuse to do the reimprinting if they suspect the ditto has had a crappy day. The other half is that for all effective purposes the ditto is the same as the original, and having knowingly submitted to the process, the unlucky "self" who ends up as the ditto doesn't usually feel like screwing it's collective self over by not accomplishing it's tasks.

    And of course as with any process, there are ocassionaly defects. In this case it leads to "Frankensteins" whose personalities were not copied perfectly and diverge from the original. The results can vary from a ditto that wants to slack off and live what little life it has left (Frankensteins are almost never copied back, and in fact there may be difficulties in doing so) without following it's original goal, to totally psychotic dittos who might go on a rampage.

    As for the book itself, i thought it was really good. The ending does tend towards the techno-mystical, but that's not really something i minded. If you were bothered by the end of "Earth" it might bug you though.

  • fit Nero Wolfe?

  • Now, I know I'm not the only one who read that as kil'n people and rapidly openned it to find out where I could get my automatic weapon too.

  • Blade Runner, but less philosophical and with more action. Phillip K. Dick goes to Hollywood!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All I know is this...
    If I were a ditto, only going to live 24 hours, I sure as fuck wouldn't want to go to work for 8 or more of those hours. I don't care if my schmuck primary created me for that purpose. In fact - being the primary, since the dittos think like me, I know they'd just play truant.

    I'd be more likely to go to work and send my dittos out on holiday. I know myself well enough to know that only the threat of my future existance being uncomfortable keeps me in a 9-5 job when there are more fun alternatives.

    I really don't see dittos wanting to go to work for their primaries (or whatever they're called). Especially with the possiblity that the ditto won't get uploaded at the end of the day.

    Ah well. It's an interesting concept, and I think I'll read it for myself.
    • Your comments are all addressed in the book! One character is unable to reliably create dittos which do what she wants... and one of the main character's dittos decides not to work and just goof off for the day :)

      I liked the book, and thought that this review was a bit harsh (I wanted more, not less!)
  • When I read William Gibson's "Virtual Light", I was very disappointed. Gibson was trying to write Stephenson's "Snow Crash", but was unable to do it justice.

    I consider David Brin to be one of my favourite authors, so I was excited to pick up a copy of "Kiln People". Unfortunately, I was drawn to the conclusion the David Brin was also trying to write "Snow Crash", albeit in his own way.

    Neither Gibson nor Brin quite did "Snow Crash" justice. However, in Brin's case, he wrote a book worth reading. It's a far shot away from being his best work, but if you're a Brin fan, reading it can't hurt.

    That said, I wish Brin would explain the evidently self-uplifted origin of humanity and tell us more about the Progenitors [gayspermbank.com]!
  • Could the presentation box of the books mention the date of publication? Even if such a piece of information is not hard to get by, I think it would be really helpful. For example, the recently reviewed Effective Java is actually a book published in 2001.


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