Kiln People by David Brin

(discussed March 27, 2003)

On a ten-point scale (1=bad, 10=good), the people who read the book gave the following ratings: 5 (Ignacio), 7 (Julie), 7 (Raja), 8 (Abe), 8 (Lisa), 9 (Simms), 9 (TC)
Average: 7.6

As often happens, some people really liked the book, and some really disliked it. (And two of the people who really disliked it did not vote, for what that's worth.)

On the dislike side, one common complaint was that it was hard to maintain suspension of disbelief. Nobody seemed to be able to believe in the golems, the central feature of the book. (John Gallman said he didn't believe anything in the book, but Raja felt that the background society's science and technology were plausible, and an interesting fictional treatment of ideas from David Brin's nonfiction book, The Transparent Society.) Ignacio made the interesting comment that he would have been able to suspend disbelief more easily if this had been a short story; at 460 pages, there was too much time for him to be bothered by the golems.

Another cause of complaint was the large number of puns, both embedded in the story (e.g., G.L.A.Z.I.E.R.) and presented in the chapter headings. Some people felt that these puns knocked them straight out of the story (Gregory, in particular, seemed to give up when he reached G.L.A.Z.I.E.R.) while others (such as Abe) found them amusing, and a sign that the author wasn't taking things too seriously.

The third thing that seemed to bother people (even people who really enjoyed the book) was the ending, with its somewhat out-of-nowhere metaphysics and "souls".

On the plus side, many people found the idea of making multiple short-lived copies of yourself to complete several tasks in parallel to be intriguing--though Gregory didn't think any copy of himself would be willing to clean toilets ;-). Someone pointed out that the main character was rich and used greens for menial tasks that were usually carried out by less-intelligent copies. Along these lines, several people enjoyed the middle section of the book, where four versions of the main character did first-person narration, and these four versions started out very similar, but ended up diverging because of their different experiences over the day.

The people who really liked the book said that it was well written--I think both TC and Steve Simms found it to be a real page-turner with good characters. (And though John Gallman didn't like the book, he did say, multiple times, that it was professionally written.) Simms also said he liked the book's matter-of-fact approach to suspension of disbelief; the author did not belabor the implausible parts, but just let the reader accept them (or not). Simms also found the book to be a little reminiscent of Philip K. Dick (one of his favorite authors) and found himself to be really engaged with the book--he would try to anticipate which Albert would narrate the next chapter, and what that Albert would say. This was the first Brin novel that Simms had read, and several people encouraged him to try Startide Rising next.