David Brin: “Kiln People” (c) 2002.

David Brin is an American  science fiction writer  whose novels  often have as their basis, the impact of  scientific or technological change on  human society.   The novels  are written with  vivid imagination,  thoughtful with philosophical and literary allusions,  and  have won or have been nominated for a number of  awards including the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards.

The theme of  sentient-species and   humans as stewards of sentient species is the basis of “The Uplift”series of novels , including  “Sundiver “(1980); “Startide Rising” (1983) – Hugo, Locus , and Nebula Awards winner;  and “The Uplift War” (1987) Hugo and Locus Awards winner, and Nebula Award nominee.

 “Kiln People” (2002)  was nominated for the John W. Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, Hugo, and Locus Awards.  

I found this SF story fascinating to read : It is  about a technology that transforms how a society lives and works, and it is written as a  suspense story as Detective Albert Morris investigates the murder of the technology’s founder, Dr. Yosil Maharal.

“Kiln People” is about a futuristic society:
Kiln people are clay copies of real people. Using kilns and templates and neural probes, people can create life-like clay copies of themselves. The clay copies are referred to as “dittos” or as golems. Each ditto is unique as its initial set of memories and personality is made from the unique “Soul Standing Wave” of a real person.

In Jewish folklore, a golem is an anthropomorphic being created  from clay or mud. The original legend refers to a powerful golem made by Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the 16th-century rabbi of Prague, to protect the Jews from persecution.

The novel is divided into four parts, each part is divided into sections. At the beginning of each part, there is a quotation, and the title of each section is either a play on words or alludes to a literary or cultural or political or philosophical or historical connection to the story line.

Part 1 begins with lines from a poem by  John Keats (1795–1821) :

“On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again” (1818)  (*)

“Adieu! for once again the fierce dispute
Betwixt damnation and impassioned clay
Must I burn through …
But when I am consumed in the Fire
Give me new Phoenix wings to fly at my desire.”

Part II  begins with a quote from  the Book of Job:

“Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me unto dust again?’

Part III begins with lines from  “Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám” ; translation by Edward FitzGerald (1859)

(quatrain LIII).

“With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man’s knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:

Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.”

Part IV begins with a quote from the Book of Job:

“But this man that you wish to create for yourself is short of days and full of passion”.


The story:

“Kiln People” — Making a Ditto  and The “Soul Standing Wave” duplication technology

The ditto’s ceramic brain is imprinted with the personality and the memories of the original person using neural probes that sweep the brain and nerve profiles for downloading from the real person to the ditto.

Dittos can be made to resemble the real person very closely and are used widely, by rich and poor people, in all walks of life, for work and for pleasure; in situations which pose personal danger; and for legal and illicit purposes. The different qualities and levels of dittos are indicated by different colors of their pseudoskins. A platinum color is used for dittos involved in highly complex and intellectual work; a platinum ditto indicates a wealthy original person, and closely resembles the real person. a gray ditto is someone involved in business; a green ditto is made for routine errands and housework .

Dittos only last for 24 hours, turning into a lifeless clay slurry at the end. They can upload their memories and experiences only to the original person, referred to as the archetype or “real”. People can choose to upload their ditto’s memories into their own brains, or not.

Dittos are copyrighted, and there are laws against “ditnapping” and copyright piracy.

Principal Real persons & Dittos

Albert Morris is a private detective who uses dittos extensively in his work. He has the ability to make high quality dittos of himself. Using specialized programs on his computer, he can track his dittos, referred to as “ditAlbert”, on various assignments and tasks. The dittos have tiny subvocal recorders into which they can record their experiences and thoughts.

The narration in the novel is from the perspective of the real Albert Morris, as well as by the three ditAlberts, that he sends out to investigate the apparent murder of the developer of ditto technology, Dr. Yosil Maharal. The three ditAlberts each end up developing their own personalities as they have different experiences, and face life-threatening situations,. What would Albert do? With no real-time contact with real Albert, the ditAlberts must make their own decisions.

Universal Kilns is the major manufacturer of the kilns.

Dr. Yosil Maharal, a brilliant scientist, developer of the ditto technology, is one of the founders of Universal Kilns.  Dr. Yosil has been working on a revolutionary breakthrough in ditto technology. He is found dead under suspicious circumstances. His gray ditto, ditYosil, is still alive (referred to as a “ghost”).

Ritu Maharal, is Yosil’s daughter, and she believes Yosil has been murdered. Unknown to Albert, Ritu has multiple personality syndrome.

Vic Aeneas Kaolin is the chairman of Universal Kilns. He is a recluse, living at the Kaolin Mansion. His work is carried out by his platinum ditto, ditKaolin. Ritu and ditKaolin hire Albert Morris to investigate the death of Yosil.

Beta is a master criminal wanted for ditto copyright violations and ditnapping famous dittos, duplicating them, and selling them. Beta escapes a raid on his hideout by Albert and Inspector Blane’s dit-police.

Clara Gonzalez is Albert’s girlfriend. Like millions of people, she uses ditto technology to pursue multiple interests. She is a college student, and a competitive “warrior” – wars and battles have become sporting events, with the actual fighting done by dittos.


(Dittos only last for 24 hours)

Albert makes three different dittos:
Gray #1 has research and business capabilities, and he goes to the Kaolin Mansion to talk to ditYosil about Dr. Yosil’s death.

Gray # 2 handles an important meeting  with the actress and entertainment maestra Gineen Wammaker. Her dittos and templates have been stolen by Beta, who sells illicit cheap quality copies.

The third ditto, Greenie, is given a list of routine errands and housekeeping chores for the day.

Albert inserts a tiny subvocal recorder in the gray dittos. The dittos record all their experiences throughout the day into the tiny recorder and it can become very important if the ditto is unable to return for memory uploading from its brain at the end of its 24-hour life.

Later on that same day:
Gray #1 and ditYosil disappear from the Kaolin Mansion. Gray #1’s ID pallet is found in an off-limits area.

Gray #2 is trapped into a conspiracy to blow up the Universal Kiln factory. He realizes a prion bomb has been implanted into his injured leg. He blows himself up within a forklift, confining the impact of the prion bomb to a limited area.

Greenie sends a message to Albert that he finds himself in a strange mood and questions his usefulness. Albert has made a flawed copy: Greenie is a “frankie” , like Frankenstein. Frankies often turn out to be intelligent, and different from their originator. They are often allowed to to live their single day of life the way they want to.

At Universal Kilns, Chairman DitKaolin finds the tiny recorder that Gray#2 had carried . He hires Greenie and ditPal, a ditto of Albert’s colleague Pal,  to find the the perpetrators behind the bombing.

Dr. Yosil Maharal had spent a great deal of time for his research on digital technologies at his cabin in Urraca Mesa in the desert. There is a also a military base at Urraca Mesa, which is used as a site for international battle competitions. Albert’s girlfriend Clara is at Urraca Mesa competing with other warriors in a competition. When Albert learns of Gray #1’s disappearance at the Kaolin Mansion, he meets with Yosil’s daughter Ritu, to drive to Urraca Mesa, and hopes also to meet Clara.

On the way to Urraca Mesa, Albert learns from the news that he is now wanted as a criminal and perpetrator of the Universal Kilns bombing. He also learns that his own home has been destroyed by a bomb. He decides to drive on to Urraca Mesa. At night, a speeding car tries to kill Albert, who manages to avoid the first attempt. The driver of the car aims a powerful weapon at Albert’s car. Albert drives into the second car, and veers off the highway into the ravine. Albert and Ritu survive the crash and trek on foot the remaining miles to Urraca Mesa. Albert records the events into his subvocal recorder.

On Wednesday

At the Urraca Military Base, in an underground tunnel, Ritu disappears. Albert finds his way to Dr Yosil’s underground labs in the tunnel, below the cabin.

Dr. Yosil has developed renewal treatments to extend the life times of dittos beyond 24 hours. He has also developed technology for memory transfer from ditto to ditto. After Dr. Yosil’s murder, his ditYosil takes over the research, using Albert’s dittos as guinea pigs. The ditnapped Gray #1 has been copied into another ditto, and ditYosil plans the next step of Dr. Yosil’s experiments.

The brilliant Dr. Yosil had thought he could control the Soul Standing Wave of people. When Albert enters Dr. Yosil’s labs, he sees DitYosil  on a pendulum that swings from one ditto to another; the two ditalberts are strapped down, a Soul Standing Wave amplifying as it flows from one ditto to the other.
The amplified Soul Standing Wave grows beyond containment. It hurls the pendulum and ditYosil into the stone ceiling, and the Wave vanishes. Albert is the only one who seems to understand where the Wave has gone.

With ditKaolin’s help, Greenie ‘s 24 hour life has been renewed. He is at Dr. Yosil’s labs now. He and Albert wreck the computer system. An exhausted Greenie makes his way into the cabin and sends a fax. Real Clara, ditKaolin and warriors from the base rescue Albert and Greenie.

 About 2 weeks later:

Clara has pieced together many of the events that occurred. She confronts the real Chairman Kaolin with her conclusion that he is the arch villain, Although Kaolin is evasive, he agrees to reveal the newer ditto technologies for wider use.

Real Albert is alive, greatly weakened, he seems like a body without a Soul. Greenie has been restored. When Albert is ready to die, he says farewell to Greenie, leaving Clara in Greenie’s care. And he tells Greenie to uploads his memories to Albert’s mind. The Greenie’s mind can now have new memories, new experiences, and with extended ditto life, he can begin a new life with Clara.


*Sources and Credit

John Keats  (1795–1821).   One of the principal poets of the English Romantic movement.

The complete poem  “On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again” (1818)
is at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_Sitting_Down_to_Read_King_Lear_Once_Again
Works by this author published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain

The “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Omar Khayyam” —  Translation by Edward Fitzgerald (1859)


Works by this author published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain.