main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Literature: Kiln People
Kiln People is a 2002 science fiction novel by author David Brin. The book is set in the near-future, where technology allows people to place a copy of their consciousness into a life-size model of their body made of clay, completely revolutionising society. The story follows private detective Albert Morris and his duplicates, or 'dittos', as he chases the criminal Beta and investigates the disappearance of Yosil Maharal, the creator of the ditto technology.

This work provides examples of:

  • Ace Custom: Maharal's platinum dittos and Beta's plaids.
  • Affably Evil: Beta.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Several of the disposable clones of Albert Morris get to describe their own demise in first person. As a lampshade/justification, Albert is used to them being unable to return to him for inloading, so he deliberately orders blanks fitted with voice recorders and a compulsion to recite so he can still find out what they've discovered.
  • Arch-Enemy: Averted — One of Albert's dittos notes that he thinks of himself as Sherlock to Beta's Moriarty, but Beta is far too clever for him. Beta is more irritated than threatened by Albert's crusade to bring him down.
  • Artificial Human: The dittos. Their organs, bones, flesh etc. are all made of clay. Subverted however with the golems with a non-human form, such as the battle dittos, which have a human mind but often monstrous forms.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The ultimate goal of ditto!Maharal, and a possible fate of Albert.
  • Become a Real Boy: Once Albert becomes semi-comatose at the end of the novel, he agrees to let his failed copy Frankie upload his memories and mind into Albert's body, taking it over, fulfilling Frankie's dream of becoming human. The trope's title is even used.
  • Blood Sport: Played with. It's common for humans to hunt dittos, or to create dittos to fight each other in combat and then absorb their memories. Although the dittos can be brutally maimed or killed, the original humans are perfectly safe, so there is no blood spilt.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Beta is "the last of the master criminals" and gleefully lives up to his role.
  • Clone Degeneration: Dittos (also called golems) disintegrate after their small amount of artificial life force is used up. There are however some ways to slow the process. Also, copying a ditto's mind into another ditto generally results in a drooling idiot rather than a functional golem; Albert's got a minor quirk, in that his dittos of dittos work perfectly.
  • Clones Are People Too: Some treat dittos as individual beings worthy of the same rights as humans. A Ditto hospital even exists, even though Dittos' lifespans are only a couple of days.
  • Cloning Blues: Averted and played straight. Most of Albert's dittos are happy with their short lot in life, believing that by using the machine to return their memories to Albert, they get a kind of afterlife and meaning in existence. Frankie however, a flawed copy of Albert who doesn't follow his will, does complain a bit about his situation.
    • Clones who know they're not going to rejoin the archetype tend to despair; society has adapted to this, and some volunteers organize the Temple of the Ditsenfranchised to provide some comfort for the dittos who aren't getting an afterlife.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Green dittos are the cheapest, with slightly reduced intelligence, the least physical ability and are more suitable for menial and simpler tasks. A grey ditto is superior quality and higher price. Ebonies have increased intelligence, and can absorb and analyse large amounts of data quickly. Ivory dittos are sexbots, with more pleasure receptors. Purples are combat models, with no pain receptors. Red and yellow versions are also mentioned but don't appear much. There are also the platinum dittos used by Maharal and the plaids used by Beta; these are custom models that contain the full intellect of their rig (and in the case of platinums, look almost human).
  • Cyborg: Most humans possess tiny, cyborg additions by the time the novel is set. Albert himself has a camera fitted in his eye and a phone fitted in his head, among other gadgets. It is common to fit similar, though cheaper and simpler devices in dittos too. Albert makes it common practise to fit his dittos with voice recorders, providing most of the narration of the book.
  • Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: Frankie takes over Albert's body with the latter's permission, partly to allow their mutual love Clara a proper and happy life, instead of being stuck with two half men.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After going through hell, worrying about his place in life and expecting to not survive beyond a couple of days, Frankie gets to upload his mind into Albert's semi-comatose body. Frankie gets a real body, a real lifespan and a chance to be with the woman he loves, Clara, Albert's fiancee.
  • Expendable Clone: How most people treat their dittos. Some however treat them with varying levels of respect, including Albert.
  • First-Person Smartass: Apart from one chapter which is in the second person.
  • Future Slang: Mostly related to the revolutionary ditto technology. A clay duplicate is a "golem" or a "ditto". A human a ditto is based off is called a "rig" (from "original") or an "archie" (from "archetype"). A "frankie" (from Frankenstein) is a poorly made ditto who is not a perfect copy of the original's personality, and as such is much less likely to follow orders. A "ghost" is a ditto that still exists after the original has died.
  • Gentleman Thief: Beta likes to cultivate this image, and scrupulously refrains from damaging real people. The latter is, however, because if he did actually hurt someone, he would be crossing the Moral Event Horizon, and that's bad for business.
  • Golem: The essential premise of the book is that this is a world where technology has allowed the creation of golems, giving life to clay.
  • Immortal Life Is Cheap: Played straight and subverted. The short-lived clay golems into which people download their personalities are regarded as totally expendable, but no-one risks their real self any more, and for someone to suffer even minor injury is quite a scandal.
  • In the Future, Humans Will Be One Race: Played with. After the creation of clones, "brown" becomes the term used for all human skin tones, even Caucasians.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Beta turns out to be Ritu Maharal. She suffers from a rare mental condition similar to a split personality, where at random dittos she creates are formed from a second personality which is a ruthless criminal.
  • Kill and Replace: Averted. Maharal is replaced by his duplicate, but it doesn't hide the fact that it is a ditto.
  • LARP: A very common pastime is LARP using dittos; the slang is "role-claying game." At one point, Albert's conflict with Beta is referred to as a very childish one. Beta agrees, but notes that it's one with serious money at stake.
  • Market-Based Title: Known as Kil'n People in the UK.
  • My Original Will Live Through Me: When original Albert becomes near-comatose, his copy Frankie takes over his life for him, with his permission by overwriting Albert's mind with Frankie's by uploading.
  • My Skull Runneth Over: It is standard practise to use a machine to absorb a ditto's memories back into the original before it dies. The problem is that the human brain only has space for a few hundred years' worth of memories, which is normally not a problem even for most ditto users. One character, however, has become a "queen bee" — she stays in one place and sends out dozens of dittoes at a time to live her life for her — and arranges for an elaborate suicide when she realizes she's almost out of room.
  • Our Souls Are Different: The "Standing Wave" is the scientific term for the soul; essentially, the software and data of the mind. It's independent of the physical brain, and can be freely copied (thus allowing for dittos), but can only run on wetware identical to the original's brain, and copies can merge back with the original (under normal circumstances).
  • Pinocchio Syndrome: Frankie would much rather be human than a ditto.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Key to ditto!Maharal's villainous scheme. They intend to release biological weapons into densely populated urban areas while using ditto technology to empower and release their own soul. The resulting deaths would boost ditto!Maharal's soul, allowing it to transcend to godhood.
  • Private Detective: Albert Morris (and some of his dittos).
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: One of Albert's dittoes mentions that it's indeed possible for the right hand not to know what the left hand is doing, and goes under a confidentiality seal to keep the details of his work private even from the original Albert, because there's a possibility that two of Albert's dittoes are working at cross purposes, and it's only a conflict of interest if they report back home.
  • Second-Person Narration: Used to demonstrate to the reader how the characters' consciousness changes when exposed to ditto!Maharal's soul machine. It also increases the tension during the climax of the story.
  • Sexbot: Ivory dittos are designed to feel greater sexual pleasure, the experiences of which the originals will later absorb.
  • Science-Related Memetic Disorder: By the time of the novel's events, mad science has been diagnosed as caused by one of several psychological complexes. Albert Morris listens to the villain ditto!Maharal ramble and mentally goes down a list of symptoms, eventually diagnosing him with a textbook case of one of the complexes.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Frankenstein: The slang for a renegade ditto is a "Frankenstein duplicate" or "frankie."
    • Pinocchio is referenced at one point when talking about Frankie: "She's all yours, Pinocchio."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Dittos have no rights to speak of; if a ditto is killed, it's not murder, but a civil tort for destruction of the original's property.
  • We Will Use Manual Labour In The Future: Dittos built in non-human forms for greater physical strength are used in factories.

PassageArthur C. Clarke AwardThe Scar
CoralineHugo AwardThe Years of Rice and Salt
Mortal EnginesSeiun AwardThe Laundry Series
The Killing StarScience Fiction LiteratureKnown Space
Kiki StrikeLiterature of the 2000sKing Dork

alternative title(s): Kiln People
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy