Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Title:Kil’n People
Author: David Brin
Publisher: Orbit

Albert Morris is a private detective. But thanks to the technology provided by Universal Kilns he isn’t exactly the archetypal private detective. The kiln technology allows people to print their personality/memories into a clay blank and create a copy of themselves. The copy can then do a days work, and load that day back into the original. This has totally changed the world, and most folk live as permanent students or get paid a default wage. Morris is different, he is good at the job of private detective, and with the aid of several replicas he goes further than ever before.

His speciality is copyright infringement, his arch-nemesis being a ditto (copy) called Beta. Having just crushed the latest of Beta’s enterprises, Morris is surprised when he is approached by Universal Kilns to help find one of the managing directors who has gone missing. But from there it isn’t long before he is over his head – who is he up against, the master villain, the mad scientist, or the corporate big shot?

Thanks to the technology at the heart of Kil’n People, Brin offers an interesting narrative device, we have the same character is several different forms. As the novel progresses, the story alternates, between three versions of the same character. Following the similarities in the core personality as they all echo the reaction’s of each other, through how they find themselves in different circumstances, and how those fit into the overall plot.

To some degree Kil’n People has a large element of pulp fiction, or the black and white serialisations from Saturday morning cinema of the same period. Each chapter tends towards the cliffhanger set up. With the characters to some degree fitting into the archetypes of the hero and villain, something which Brin does consciously, actually discussing the idea within the text.

Coupled with that there are real science issues involved as well, while the chances of making clay copies of people as depicted here might be far fetched. However there could be a parallel between make copies of oneself in this manner and the ideas of cloning. Through the course of Kil’n People we encounter a range of responses to the technology. Is the copy of a traditionally born person in turn a “real” person? Does a copy have a soul? What social rights does a copy have? If the world is suddenly flooded with copies that are going to enter the work market, what effect does that have on how everything runs?

As the novel moves on through its 500 odd pages Brin becomes increasingly hard-core. Becoming involved in metaphysics, the idea of what the soul is, how that fits into the greater universal scheme of things. Which is all dangerous territory, authors who get so involved in the cosmic/spiritual side of things walk a fine line – is some universal force/god going to make an appearance, and doing so change the whole course of the narrative, and in doing so perhaps undermine the entire novel? In the depths of Kil’n People this poses a real danger, with Brin pushing it as far as he can go. Though in the end he does what he feels he has to do, and manages to maintain an element of balance in order to wrap the novel up.

To a degree Brin could have created a crime serial here. Albert Morris and his copies could have become a recurring character, something that is so common in the field of crime fiction. However when you have taken a character as far as he does through the course of Kil’n People, it becomes a serious challenge to go further than he has already. So I suspect that it is unlikely that Brin will return to Albert Morris and the kil’n people, though if he were to he would need to perform some trick to top this novel.

Part crime noir classic, part science fiction narrative, and part metaphysical discourse Kil’n People is a mixed bag. Filled with drama and big ideas, and enough humour to keep it readable.

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