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Metareview: Kil'n People (US title: Kiln People)by David Brin
(US edition: Tor, US$26, 461 pages, hardback, February 2002; ISBN: 0-675-30355-8. UK edition: Orbit, £10.99, 501 pages, trade paperback, 2 May 2002; ISBN: 1-84149-138-1.)

Rating: "A-": what if we could make cheap cover scan - UK editioncopies of ourselves? Nice.

A new David Brin novel is always an event. He's not SF's best novelist, but you can count on him for cool ideas, likeable characters, and bedrock optimism -- all on display in Kil'n People.

In a brave new world c.2100, you can 'bake' short-lived duplicates of yourself, and send them off to do, well, pretty much anything that catches your fancy. The heart of your home copier is the tetragramatron [!, note 1], which scans your soul and imprints your Standing Wave onto cheap, clay-based blanks.

"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."
-- Ernest Lilley, SFRevu

KP's plot exists to trot out Brin's cool extrapolations, which follow John Campbell's dictate to allow one impossible idea per story, then ring the changes, if this "what-if" came true. Another prominent part of the backstory is Brin's "Transparent Society," or security through universal snooping (, which is a better idea than it might seem at first glance -- but Brin does get a bit preachy about it. He does a better job with technology-as-destiny, with the light of science pushing back the darkness of superstition with each big discovery. And I like the quotes, allusions and references to earlier SF throughout the book.

"More than any writer I know, David Brin can take scary, important problems and turn them sideways, revealing wonderful opportunities. This talent shows strongly in Kil'n People, a novel which is deep and insightful and often hilarious, all at the same time."
--Vernor Vinge, cover blurb.

"Stylistically and thematically, Brin owes a debt to several important predecessors. Algis Budrys' Rogue Moon (1960), with its matter transmitter that duplicates the protagonist over and over, is an important landmark, as is Damon Knight's A for Anything (1959). John Varley's Nine Worlds tales, with their reliance on old-fashioned cloning for serial identity transfer, also figure. But, surprisingly, the most dominant influence to my ears is A.E. van Vogt. Kil'n People has the same crazed oneiric intensity and recomplicated plotting, the throwaway mortality and 'poor superman' empathy that marked the best of van Vogt's work."
-- Paul Di Filippo (, the best review I saw online.

"Fun to read and thought-provoking, this is excellent science fiction."
-- Elizabeth Sourbut (New Scientist)

Author's comments:


Note 1) A high tolerance for word-play, including some serious groaners, would be a big help if you read Kil'n People. You Have Been Warned. [...back to main text]

Review by Peter D Tillman; More of Peter D Tillman's reviews can be found at: SF Site and Google "Peter D. Tillman" +review for many more!

Kil'n People is also reviewed in Adam Roberts' feature on the 2003 Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist.

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© Peter D Tillman 11 May 2002