Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Kil'n People

by David Brin


Today we have disposable razors, disposable pens, cameras, and more. Taking the throwaway society to its extreme, David Brin brings us a future world of disposable people.

In Brin's future, people can make copies of themselves. These are temporary people made from clay, fuelled by enzymes and imprinted with the thoughts of the original. Unlike the mind-uploading that has been a theme in science fiction for a long time, here it's only someone's unique "soul standing wave" that is copied. So a person can only inload the memories of the copies, or dittos, that he or she has created. It's not merely a matter of copying data, but something slightly more spiritual.

The Kil'n of the title refers to the way clay golems are baked into life, and also the name of the company behind the technology, Univeral Kil'ns. Each ditto lasts a mere day before dissolving into slurry, leaving a mere pellet for the real person to inload. You've got to hand it to Brin for coming up with this, it's not the future many would have imagined. Yet who hasn't wanted to be in several places at the same time, or to live dangerously without any risk to their real body?

Brin has really thought this through and come up with the consequences, showing us how mankind's desires could easily become horrific. Mass unemployment, and boredom as people have nothing else to do but amuse themselves with violence by proxy. Clay people think and feel just as their originals do, but they are treated as a second class of expendable slaves, mere property with no rights.

In the middle of all this is Albert Morris, a private detective. He's on the trail of Beta, a notorious ditnapper. Beta has been making unauthorised copies of Gineen Wammaker, a celebrity renowned for her charms, and selling them on the black market. But Albert soon has bigger fish to fry when the real Yosil Maharal, a scientist who worked for Universal Kil'ns, is murdered. His daughter hires Albert to find the killer, who dispatches several versions of himself to investigate. The case seems to implicate Aeneas Kaolin, the head of Universal Kil'ns. But nothing is straightforward, and Albert finds himself the victim of a conspiracy that puts his real life in danger. New technology is being developed that could once more change everything.

With multiple versions of Albert, there's plenty of potential for confusion, and it's to Brin's credit that he holds the threads together. Kil'n People is fast-paced and dangerous, and just when you think you've worked out where it's going it twists off in another direction. More than simply a science fiction thriller, it looks at what it means to be an original when there are dittos of oneself everywhere. Kil'n People is not religious as such, but the soul is a major theme and not just the gimmick that makes it possible to write about a world where it's possible to copy yourself.

Towards the end of the book it drifts into second person narration, and the story loses some credibility around this point. But Kil'n People ultimately doesn't disappoint. This is the way science fiction is supposed to be, exploring frontiers that most of us had never even considered before. It's also a good, adrenaline-pumped read.

Book Details

Year: 2002

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
    Male Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson


Jake the Snake     16th January, 2005 22:22pm

A fine read!