by David Brin
Tor, 2002, 460 pp, $25.95
David Brin’s reputation as one of our best SF writers is due both to the quality of his stories and his endless inventiveness. Kiln People is an excellent example of both.
The book takes place a century or so from now in a world where thirty or forty years previously, a technology was discovered which allows people to record a copy of their soul temporarily on a clay matrix to create golems. The golems last but a day, typically returning at the end of the day to transfer their memories back to their creator. When you record a golem, you wake up yourself, but a copy made of animate clay with precisely your memories, wakes up thinking “Oh, shit! I’m a copy today.”
Golems do the world’s work and most people create several each day to do work to boring – or too dangerous – for flesh people to want to do. Brin has thought out the consequences of his technology pretty clearly and the world he constructs – while a bit too much like our world to be a plausible 2100 AD – is very nicely done. This is a classic job of imagination and world-building. (Brin’s usually good at this, but this book’s a lot better than most.)
I particularly liked how Brin tried to imagine the second-order effects of this technology. Not just the gadget, but its effect on society and human values.
Besides all this, Kiln People tells a decent story about Albert Morris, a detective who gets involved much too deeply in a very complex plot and must – somehow – unravel it before it unravels him. The books lags a bit in later chapters where it seems a bit like a long chase scene, but overall this is a fine piece of SF which will likely be on my Hugo ballot next year.