UK Edition May 2002Kiln People by David Brin 
List Price: $25.95 
Hardcover - 336 pages (January, 2002) 
Tor; ISBN: 0765303558
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Most heroes have feet of clay, but Albert Morris, Private Investigator, has more than that, being clay from head to toe.

Not the original Albert, of course, but all the copies that he warms up in his home kiln to send out into the world and do his legwork, run his errands, and occasionally get shot or hacked to pieces.

Just like everybody else in David Brin's latest book, Kiln People.

In a not too distant future Los Angeles, Morris is a hard baked private eye with a knack for unraveling mysteries. His clay clones contain a certain amount of his sleuthing ability, downloaded into each lump by a copy process, and when the "ditto" comes home after a hard day of detecting, uploaded back into the original...before the wasted vessel goes into the recycle bin, or falls apart from decay. Dittos only live for a day, but they can hope to upload into the flesh of their creator and gain comparative immortality.

Dittos come in different colors, showing the quality and suggesting the abilities of the copy. A green, not too smart, is good for cleaning the house, taking out the garbage, and doing a bit of shopping, while a grey is a considerable step up, practically as clever as the flesh and blood version, and often with  talents, from concentration to breath holding, built in. 

There are even versions that surpass the original, like the brilliant blacks, or the ultra sensual whites...and their disdain of the original can haunt you when they upload, as they must if they want any kind of continuity. At least they know there's an afterlife...in the flesh.

The hardest part for the reader is keeping track of all the claymation versions running around working on different aspects of the case. From the inside, they all "sound" like the same person, though they make frequent references to their various skin colors and place in the social order to help us keep them straight.

Does the technology implied make any sense in Kiln People? Yes, and no. It's certainly nothing I'm going to invest in if there's a startup in the works, but at least the author is drawing on some established bits of historical and prehistorical lore, that clay can be imprinted with more than mere Sumerian scribing. Also, to his credit, he follows the Campbellian principle of allowing himself only one major scientific given, the ability to copy a "standing wave" from a living being to a "clayborg", charged up with energy enough to last a day. And then he goes on from there to see what that world would be like. 

Anyway, it's nice to see Brin scribing away on the ol' tablet, and while Kiln People may not be the best thing he's ever cooked up, it's got a certain heft to it. 

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu                                                                                  sa 01.18.02