Top critical review
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on 22 August 2004
Perhaps the best way to encapsulate Brin's latest book is its own (UK edition) tagline: "A Future Thriller". It's neither space opera nor overly-cerebral: for the most part, it's a fast-paced near-future tale that has plenty of ideas but plays down the cerebral in favour of plot.
_Kil'n People_ is set in our world a few generations down the line, at a time when society has been transformed by the widespread availability of the technology to make "dittos". Dittos are not organic clones, but recyclable clay copy-people imprinted with their maker's abilities/personality/soul, finetuned to equip them for their designated tasks - and designed to disintegrate after one day's service, with the optional ability to 'inload' the memories of their brief lives back to their originator. Dittos do all the jobs that real people love to hate, or that are considered far too dangerous to risk one's true body in, leaving real folk free to do as they please. For many, this means finding creative ways to stave off boredom, or to experience new extremes of behaviour by proxy.
The implications are intriguing, and are explored almost as fully as the confines of the break-neck pace will allow: the decadence, the boredom, the proxy wars, the impact upon human relationships and religious beliefs. Characterisation isn't a strong point, but Brin has great fun with his fictional environment and his count-the-twists plot, and for much of the novel you'll find yourself borne along on an infectious wave of ditto-led puns and tantalising glimpses of social detail. It has the odd thought-provoking line courtesy of the narrators' dittos exploring their independence, but on the whole the concern here is for an entertaining story and a few scientific extrapolations.
However, Brin also has a weakness for preaching/info-dumping his social and scientific ideas (what causes a religious experience, the excesses of radicalism, the ultimate good of scientific progress, etc.) that jars with the tone, upsetting the pace. It's a shame, particularly when in other parts of the novel he uses his world so neatly to show rather than tell.
This trend is particularly marked towards the end, amid a muddy climax that gets carried away in its own implications, and falls into the trap of having the super-villain Explain His Scheme At Great Length. Nevertheless, this is a highly enjoyable read that ought to find a market outside the SF shelves. Recommended.