"What's this," you ask, "another Science Fiction review??" You're right: SF it is. I spend almost all day every day selling heavy (and not so heavy) theological tomes to LBC's students and staff and come the end of the day, I need a break, I need to escape.
But life's not that straightforward: science fiction explores the cutting edge of human experience - it pushes the boundaries, breaks them, bends and twists them until your journey out becomes a journey back in. If you're not convinced, home in on the Faith Odyssey website www.faithodyssey.net sometime.
So Brin: he doesn't write theology - he writes science fiction. But he forces you to ask questions and more often than not those questions have theological ramifications - most importantly here, what does it mean to be human? Imagine a cheap technology like photocopying, available to everyone - but what's copied isn't words & pictures, it's the essence of a human being, what Brin refers to as the soul's standing wave. And instead of imprinting it onto paper, it's imprinted onto clay; malleable, energised clay, baked in a special Kil'n to retain its flexibility - for a day. Then it disintegrates.
Now imagine yourself as the copy-for-a-day, a ditto sent out by your original to do a few menial tasks such as the shopping, laundry, cleaning the toilets whilst he or she gets on with more important things such as reading a novel. Are you human? How do you feel knowing that within 24 hours you'll be gone and no one will even notice that you existed? Or maybe you're a high-tech ditto sent out to do something more important and at the end of the day your original will upload your memories. How hard will you push yourself to make sure you get back to your original in time to upload? Where do you turn if you're an orphaned copy, if your original's been murdered?
Push the boundaries further: you're the original. You don't have to work - you can send out a copy to do that. You don't have to meet people: your copies can take care of that. What becomes of morality? If one of your copies has an affair with your neighbour's husband's or wife's copy and you upload the memories, have you committed adultery? Is killing a copy murder? Do you care if your copies don't come home?
Now take hold of all these possibilities, spin them around a murder mystery and further advances in technology where copies of copies can be made without loss of quality... maybe originals won't be needed anymore... and you've got Kil'n People.
This isn't cloning or nanotech: it's a parallel technology that raises very similar questions. If you're concerned about where these technologies may be taking us - if you're concerned about the ethical dilemmas raised - and if you enjoy a good read with it, this is definitely one to go for. Ask politely and I may lend you a copy of my copy...
Phil Groom, October 2003
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.
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