Individuals, interchangeably called archtypes or archies or rigs, use a device to make a copy of their Soul Standing Wave or consciousness to imprint on a standard clay blank. After a short bake in an special kiln, the golem, called a ditto or dit or rox, emerges carrying the appearance and the memories of the archie up to the point of imprinting and ready to carry out its assigned chores for the day -- unless its a frankie, or frankenstein, with its own idea of how to spend its one day of life.
Dittos may not legally appear in public wearing flesh tones, so an entire catalog of specialty dits are available for different tasks: greens for mundane chores, high quality greys for attending to personal business, ebonies for intellectual work and ivories for sensual pleasures as well as specialty dittos like blue police dittos with built-in armaments. Each ditto is manufactured with enough energy to carry it through a 24 hour period at the end of which it feels a compulsion to return to its maker. The rig then has the option of uploading the ditto's experiences into his consciousness thus giving the rox continuity or, as the dittos say, an afterlife.
Why take a risk with your one irreplaceable body when you can send out copies to have dangerous experiences and then upload them -- if the rox survives?
Albert Morris is a private detective who sends most of his dittos out to work on cases. Like most detective stories, Al describes his investigations in a first person narrative except here each of Albert's detective dittos, or ditectives, takes a turn at narration allowing Brin to weave an intricate tale of several ditectives each getting part of a larger picture.
Al has been hired to investigate the disappearance and possible murder of an important scientist at Universal Kilns, a huge international conglomerate providing ditto technology to a world hungry for clay workers and experiences that only a ditto can provide. Along the way, he moves between the worlds of rich industrialists and the seamy underworld frequented by dits.
Brin makes more than one reference to Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind. Penrose argues for the impossibility of creating Artificial Intelligence through emulating human thought processes in computers. To date, while computers have made enormous strides in playing chess and emulating human conversation, no one has yet come close to emulating the kind of general problem solving capabilities of people though this goal has for decades been said to be 3 to 5 years away. The difference is one of consciousness and self-awareness.
Brin addresses these issues. What motivates a ditto to do the chores that the archie sets for him? Does the availability of cheap human facsimilies cheapen human life. What if killing a facsimile carries only a fine for a penalty?
Brin strikes to the heart of what makes us human. The ultimate concern of what happens to consciousness after the end of the body which carries it.
Read an excerpt.
Imprint an ebony to appreciate the wordplay. Highly recommended.