KILN PEOPLE, by David Brin
Tor, 2002, Hardback, 470pp, $25.95
ISBN 0-765-30355-8

My first thought upon David Brin's latest novel is how much more 'literary' the UK (here) version looks than the US (here). The US printing is mostly a lovely metallic blue colour, but it features a lifeless interpretative painting of the contents that would scare off many who might otherwise be 'suckered' into buying the UK edition.

I hope some non-BSFA mortals are thus suckered because Kiln People is an interesting and clever book, not too demanding, but adventurous, well thought out and something a little bit different for David Brin.

Kiln People is set towards the end of a 21st century that has developed the technology to imprint a persons' memories into a duplicate made, primarily, of clay (hence the title, and the theme for endless small jokes throughout the book). These fully aware and intelligent 'dittoes' only last for approximately 24 hours, however. Their only way to avoid death - or rather achieve 'continuity' - is to reload their memories back into their 'archie' (archetype) before they die.

Albert Morris is a successful private investigator in this heady new world, although he spends most of his time at home, sending out dittos to do the boring, dangerous or inconsequential work, the same as everyone else does.

Albert's day gets rather more interesting than most when, of the three dittos he has made, the one sent to do the shopping goes 'frankie' - deciding a day at the beach would be more fun. Another, sent on an investigation, disappears, and the third independently takes on a case with a confidentiality clause that means it can never inload back into realAlbert.

Kiln People's great strength is its convoluted narrative that follows all four Alberts throughout this one single day. It's a fascinatingly dextrous attempt to convey the complexity of thought that has gone into Brin's creation, all the more enjoyable for the fact that he manages to hold it all together with a conventional first-person(s) narrative. Well, mostly conventional - some sections are briefly reminiscent of the syntactical fireworks of Bester's The Stars My Destination, but never quite flare up as flamboyantly. And the writing in Kiln People is incredibly fresh; you really wouldn't guess that Brin has been writing successfully for years. We know he's an excellent writer, but it's nice to see him stretching himself stylistically.

Flashy narrative aside, this is also a great story in the classic sf sense: beautifully-reasoned ideas pour out unstoppably once the basic premise has been established, and I particularly liked Brin's Egan-esque suggestion that science, just as it has done in other areas, will roll back the secrets of the human soul.

Did I mention that I liked this book a lot? I liked this book a lot.

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