Friday 6 February 2009

Kil'n People by David Brin

Back in the 1980s, before other priorities distracted me from reading much SFF for a decade or two, I read and enjoyed a few books by David Brin, The Practice Effect being a particular favourite. So when Kil'n People cropped up in the Modern SF reading list, I acquired a copy with some anticipation.

The novel is set about a century into the future, and is focused on the implications of some revolutionary scientific developments: that animated creatures – known as 'dittos' – can be made out of clay, and that the personality and memories of any individual can be copied into a ditto. The downside is that a ditto lasts for only one day before disintegrating, but in compensation the ditto's memories can be uploaded back into the human original. This enables each person to send out several dittos every day, greatly multiplying their workrate and also making dangerous or unpleasant tasks more acceptable. Not all dittos are the same – they vary in capabilities, indicated by different colourings – and they don't have to look like the original person; even animal forms can be used.

Al Morris is a private investigator engaged in tracking down the various new forms of crime which the existence of dittos permits, and the story follows him, and several of his dittos, as they try to unravel a huge conspiracy. There are many twists and turns until the unexpected and ambitious conclusion.

This book follows the current doorstop fashion, being over 600 pages long, which caused this reviewer to have to refresh his memory at the start of each reading session, in order to recall previous events. This task was considerably complicated by the fact that the plot keeps switching between the viewpoints of Morris and his various dittos, all of which are recounted in the first person. Trying to remember what each one had been doing, and in particular what each one had found out about what was going on, was something of a struggle.

Despite that, the book held my attention. It is well written, and I'm pleased to see that Brin hasn't lost the sense of humour which keeps bubbling up, for instance in puns based on clay and ditto (e.g. Morris' copies having the title of "ditective"). He also has a lot of fun in exploring some of the more bizarre implications of dittos and the effect their existence has on society. A solid chunk of quality, original, SF, well worth the somewhat protracted reading time.

1 comment:

Bill Garthright said...

"The downside is that a ditto lasts for only one day before disintegrating..."

Is that the downside, Tony? I assumed that it was deliberate, in order to justify what was little more than slavery or simply to prevent a revolt. After all, if dittos lasted for a long time, they would (more obviously) become separate individuals.

I'm re-reading the book, but not too quickly. And although I remember it well, I might be forgetting something in this case. Perhaps it really was an inescapable part of the process.

I'm glad you liked it the book.