Kiln People

Posted by : atcampbell | On : January 20, 2004

Kiln People by David Brin

Thirteen people attended this discussion with another emailing comments. Eleven people started the book and 8 finished it. Everyone had read something by Brin before.

In this future people can duplicate themselves into clay “golems” that retain thoughts and memories of their original. These duplicates can go out into the world for a day and work, play, commit crimes, etc., then go home and unload the day’s memories for the owner to enjoy or discard. The novel starts out with a hard-boiled detective framework, as Albert Morris, PI, is spinning off duplicates to perform various jobs and battle an arch-nemesis.

This was a complex novel that some of us really enjoyed. Other readers couldn’t get into Brin’s technological premise and struggled through the long novel. Most of the technical explanations were off stage, but the issues were always present. Not that understanding the technology was necessary to appreciate the novel; one reader said he just put his brain beneath the seat and enjoyed the ride.

The novel’s conclusion also generated a lot of differing opinions. Some labeled the ending “quasi-religious” while others thought it needed more detail. The propensity of Brin novels to start local and then suddenly get larger in scale towards the end was noted. We discussed whether the novel had great scope or too much for one book. In the end, we give Brin points for degree of difficulty.

A stumbling point for readers was the ever-changing narrative. Each chapter had a heading indicating which character/duplicate would be voicing the viewpoint but that changed with every chapter. One person made a cheat-sheet to keep the duplicates and their converging tasks straight. The characters were all interesting with the protagonist labeled “adequately cynical” by one reader. The main villain meanwhile suffered from “mad scientist syndrome.”

The unseen transition between the present day and the book’s setting was a big gap for some readers. With a lot of us out of work, it was hard to imagine a society comfortable with lots of extra bodies for which to find employment. An argument was made the book’s socioeconomic situation more like props for a movie-just something to hang the story on.

Although we thought Brin had done better work, most people felt this was a good read.

— Judy Strange