Interview with David Brin

This Interview has been provided by Orbit, and is printed with their permission.

Was there one basic idea or theme you wanted to explore when you embarked on Kil’n People?
Several that converged on the same point.

Take the universal human dream of more lifespan. We already live a very long time for mammals, getting three times as many heartbeats as a mouse or elephant. It never seems enough though, does it? Most fictional portrayals of life-extension simply tack more years on the end, in series. But that’s a rather silly version. The future doesn’t need a bunch of conservative old baby-boomers, hoarding money and getting in the grand-kids’ way. What we really need is more life in parallel – some way to do all the things we want done. Picture splitting into three or four ‘selves’ each morning, then reconverging into the same continuous person at the end of the day. What a wish fulfilment, to head off in several directions at once! Yet, in Kil’n People, folk take this for granted – it’s a modern convenience. Isn’t that what we always do with miracles, like electricity and literacy and flight? We make them routine.

More inspiration came from the past. Take the mythical golem, or the terracotta soldiers of Xian, China. Or the way ancient Sumerians thought they could immortalize their souls by writing their names in clay tablets. Keeping with this tradition, my dittos – or one-day human xeroxes – are made of kiln-baked clay.

Are these clones?
We hear a lot about cloning. My earlier novel, GLORY SEASON, portrays a future when women can conceive clone daughters, cutting men out of the loop. But despite all the clamour, cloning isn’t really copying. Even identical twins are different. Any cloned child will have unique life experiences, profoundly different from her genetic original. No, clones are a false path toward the dream of being many at once.

The dittos in Kil’n People are cheap duplicates that any person can make quickly on a ‘personal copier’ and dispatch to run errands, study, or handle business – or engage in pleasures that are too dangerous for living flesh. Or to solve crimes! (And there would be new types of crime.) Dittos dissolve after 24 hours, so they are highly motivated to make it home and download the day’s memories. It’s how they continue living, in the original organic brain.

But every neat solution creates new problems…

Do you develop the world fully in your mind before beginning to write, Does it often surprise you?
I like to be surprised. Fresh implications and plot twists erupt as a story unfolds. Characters develop backgrounds, adding depth and feeling. Writing feels like exploring.

If ditto technology were available now, would you happily duplicate yourself, and if so, what for? (Would you use a ditto to write?!)
It’s a matter of personality. Will your copies stay loyal to you? Will they share your goals and even sacrifice themselves in order to assist the original or ‘real’ you? Or might they go their own way? Some people would be well-suited for such an era, sending duplicates to study and work and have fun in ways you would never risk in your real body. Others would hate such a technology, the way some despise today’s Internet. I figure I’d fall in the middle somewhere. Sure, it would be great to get more accomplished… but I’d feel queasy looking my ‘disposable’ selves in the eye.

Al Morris is a P.I. in the classic tradition – albeit with some rather useful technology at his disposal! Are you a big fan of detective stories?
Change is the principal feature of our age and literature should explore how people deal with it. The best science fiction does that, head-on. Still, I have a special respect for detective fiction as the most honest genre. There’s no way that fancy language or artful technical distractions can disguise basic storytelling faults, not in a mystery novel! At the “whodunit” moment, when all is revealed, there has to be a sensation of satisfied surprise. The reader finds all evidence in place, well foreshadowed, and the crime reconstructed without blatant cheating.

I always recommend that aspiring novelists begin with a mystery, before moving on to their favourite genre. It trains you to play fair with the reader.

How close an eye do you keep on changes in the scientific world?
At the moment I’m reading THE MONKS OF WAR by I maintain contacts with researchers in dozens of fields, both for fun and to keep up. In fact, any well-read citizen can stay reasonably current nowadays, by reading any of the popular science magazines that describe remarkable advances every week, in terms non-specialists can understand. The advance of human knowledge has become – at long last – a vividly enjoyable spectator sport! And a growing movement toward amateur science shows there is room for participants at every level.

What’s the world’s greatest invention so far?
Criticism – the only known antidote to the human genius at self-deception. The problem is, you have to grow up a bit in order to even begin using it. (I’m still working on that part.) Every marvel of our age arose out of the critical give and take of an open society. No other civilization ever managed to incorporate this crucial innovation, weaving it into daily life. And if you disagree with this … say so!

What would you like to see created tomorrow (other than dittos?)?
An even wider diversity of voices to talk to. Communication with dolphins and intelligent computers … and among existing human cultures. And new cultures we invent as we go. We need both a technology and a linguistics or truth telling.

What are you reading at the moment?
THE DREAM OF SCIPIO by Iain Pears, a ‘literary’ historical/philosophical novel that rubs against my personal philosophy at almost every level. I grumble and snarl every few pages – and find my assumptions challenged. Also A BRAIN FOR ALL SEASONS by William Calvin, a brilliant look at how human evolution may have been influenced by climate. When it comes to science fiction, Iain M. Banks can’t be beat. Greg Bear rattles everything you thought was true.

Which authors have most influenced your writing?
I grew up on Robert Heinlein and Robert Sheckley, moved on to Aldous Huxley and James Joyce, then thawed out a bit with Vonnegut and Amis and Sharp. Finally, I decided to become a storyteller, and reacquainted myself with the clear, almost tribal rhythms of Poul Anderson.

Will Al Morris return?
I am writing Kil’n Time as we speak. It focuses less on Al Morris than his pal – a man who uses his ‘home copier’ to make the craziest dittos you’ll ever meet.

Copyright© 2002 Orbit. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. The interview has been provided by Orbit and is printed with their permission.

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