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.
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.
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