Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Kiln People

Go To
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.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: It's actually illegal to have dittos walking around in public with realistic skin tones. So the basic models are colour-coded based on their model, then they are recolored based on personal preference.
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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:
    • "Queen Irene" hires a euthanasia company to broadcast her standing wave into deep space on the hypothesis that it can imprint her consciousness on the raw ether. It doesn't seem to work.
    • The ultimate goal of ditto!Maharal, and a possible fate of Albert.
  • Become a Real Boy: Once Albert becomes half-ascended 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: More sweet than bitter. Frankie gets to become a real boy with Clara, and all the villains get either defeated or severely restricted. Archie gets a more ambiguous ending, with only the chance to explore the soulscape.
  • Advertisement:
  • Blessed with Suck: Ritu Marahal was experimented on as a child by her father, who sought to imprint his genius upon her. While she is an intelligent and resourceful woman, she developed a split personality due to the trauma, which resulted in her being unable to copy herself without creating frankensteins so divergent from her they name themselves "Beta" and run a criminal syndicate. Even worse, her other personality has enough power to force her into kilns despite her best attempts not to use them, and she can never remember what a copy of herself does, even if they return to her.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • Making dittos when distracted or emotional results in frankensteins/"frankies": copies that deviate from their original. This can range from shambling monsters to simply identifying as new, original individuals. Archie's green ditto on Tuesday morning is his first frankie, identified as Frank/Frankie/Gumby.
  • 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. Platinums are the highest quality, superior in their realism to greys, and can pass for human if not for their skin tone- only the rich like Kaolin can afford them.
    • Although colour customization of dittos covers up these categories, some characters prefer certain designs which mark their dittos, such as Beta's preference for yellows, then tartan then spiral designs. Kaolin takes advantage of these to pass of his dittos has Beta.
  • 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 practice to fit his dittos with voice recorders, providing most of the narration of the book.
  • Deity of Human Origin: ditMaharal's plan. Unfortunately Albert and his dittos sabotage it, resulting in instead Albert becoming an extradimensional explorer of human origin.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Played for Laughs when Albert has to walk across a desert, and assumes his grandfather would have laughed as such a dangerous task, given that he risked his life every day driving to work.
  • 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.
  • Enemy Without: Beta, who is a split personality of Ritu Marahal.
  • Evil Gloating: ditto!Maharal has a long, rambling philosophical speech while he has Albert's grey ditto captive. Albert zones out a few times during it.
  • Expendable Clone: How most people treat their dittos. Some however treat them with varying levels of respect, including Albert.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Beta. He plays nice, pretending to consider Albert his Worthy Opponent, but drops the act as soon as it becomes inconvenient for him.
  • First-Person Smartass: Apart from one chapter which is in the second person.
  • Foreshadowing: If one has a knowledge of Jewish mythology and a close attention to detail, then Beta's instructions to Albert at the beginning of the novel reveal a good part of the plot.
  • 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 with different skin colors, "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.
  • Literal Split Personality: Beta is a split personality of Ritu Maharal which takes over all of her dittos. It is suggested by Beta that their father Yohil Maharal may have a more subdued version.
  • Mad Scientist: Diagnosed as Smersh-Foxleitner Syndrome. Arrogance, sociopathy, mood-swings, self-delusion are some of its many symptoms, and ditMaharal is a text-book case.
  • Market-Based Title: Known as Kil'n People in the UK.
  • Me's a Crowd: Core to life in the book's setting. The plot essentially follows Archie and three dittos he creates on a Tuesday morning (one to investigate a new case, one to close an old one, one to do the chores). From there events spiral out of control as he/they investigate the mysteries he/they encounter.
  • Mind Rape: Beta is doing this to Ritu subconsciously, addicting her to getting copied and taking away/altering her memories.
  • 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 practice 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). This has some interesting connotations; Albert notes at one point that some people simply can't make dittos, and nobody's sure why, so they get stigmatized as being soulless.
  • Pinocchio Syndrome: Frankie would much rather be human than a ditto.
  • Power Degeneration: As their time starts to run out, dittos' bodies begin turning back into clay. Note that they can be preserved by stuffing them into a fridge. The hero's girlfriend does this with a fresh copy in case he gets lonely.
  • 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 by extension his dittos).
  • Private Eye Monologue: The protagonist is a private eye who uses dittos with a built-in recorder and a compulsion to narrate everything that happens. But the results are precise and dry.
  • Right Hand vs. 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. The plot kicks off with a porn actress's Sexbot having been kidnapped by Beta in order to make copies of her to sell.
  • 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.
  • Sharing a Body: Beta is Ritu Maharal's split personality, a result of Maharal attempting to imprint his own genius into her as a child.
  • 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."
  • Stable Time Loop: Transcendent!Albert arranges all the odd coincidences that help the various Alberts. Making that waiter slip and distract the thugs beating up the green in the prologue, taking control of one of Beta's soldier golems to save real!Albert, nagging Frankie to stop the missiles at the cost of his own decaying body...
  • Strapped to an Operating Table:
    • Tuesday's first grey, and the red that is duplicated from it.
    • In a strange twist Beta does this to Ritu from within her own mind, forcing her to strap herself into a copying machine to provide him with military-grade bodies.
  • Super Soldier: Ditto soldiers, all with superhuman abilities, fight all wars now, as humans cannot compete with their abilities and disposable nature. So now all wars are treated as sport: competition where incredible soldiers fight for a week, while their human originals meditate and train.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Between Albert's various dittos, with their dialogue changing according to their personality.
  • Transgender: Beta, a male personality in a female body.
  • 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. This is despite dittos possessing all of their originals consciousness and personality, if copied correctly.
  • We Will Use Manual Labour in the Future: Dittos are often built in non-human forms, such as greater physical strength for in factories, or titanic dinosaur-like dittoes as buses.
  • Working the Same Case: Part of what makes the novel interesting is that four copies of the same man are investigating different matters relating to the same case. Frankie comes the closest to figuring out the whole story.
  • Worthy Opponent: Subverted; Albert thinks he's "Holmes to Beta's Moriarty", but Beta is actually far smarter than him and is just playing along.
  • Zombie Advocate: Individuals of varying extremism compete for ditto rights as persons rather than property. The Ephemeral Church are more moderate, giving dittos support and healthcare despite only lasting for a day, while Lum's extremists want to make dittos equivalent to people. Reactions range from sympathy to contempt.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: