(2007) Eric Brown, Solaris, £7.99 Can$17.99, US$15.00, pbk, 304pp, ISBN 978-1-844-16473-8 Kethani (2007) Eric Brown, Solaris, £7.99 Can$17.99, US$15.00, pbk, 304pp, ISBN 978-1-844-16473-8
Eric Brown has won the BSFA award twice for short stories, has published 25 books (including stories for teenagers and children), and he also writes a monthly SF-review column in the Guardian newspaper. I did not realise until I finished this book that its main chapters are actually short stories published between 1997 and 2007. This was a genuine surprise and Brown has collected them together and interwoven fresh material (what is sometimes referred to as a 'fix-up', c.f. certain novels by A.E. Van Vogt), and presented it as a collection of people's experiences across a large number of years, charting the time since the arrival of the Kethani. The basic storyline is of an alien race who arrive unannounced offering immortality to humanity. As you can imagine, there is great scepticism and, initially, some conflict with certain religious belief systems.
The chapters take us through the personal experiences of a fluctuating group of friends, based in a village on the moors. The regular Tuesday night get-together at the pub becomes a platform to discuss the Kethani and the myriad of philosophical and practical issues which immortality engenders, including how it all plays out across the years. Partly because of this, to me the book had a quintessential Britishness about it reminiscent of John Wyndham. This humongous global event brought down to the level of a small collection of people in a village is an interesting way to go about it. However, I do have some criticisms: firstly, there seems to be a lot of repetitive description which, though explained by the short story nature of the original material, was a pity it was not dealt with during the fix-up; secondly, the author has almost every personal relationship fail (though not always related to the alien situation), and the only successful one is against all expectations. This seemed slightly odd and was mildly depressing.
People do return from 'resurrection' changed, aside from obviously being fit and well with no defects. By and large humanity has been upgraded and improved, but this has consequences. They are better people, but oddly less able to love, perhaps, and they are encouraged to become missionaries for the Kethani and head for the stars. There was a very brief mention of other aliens opposed to the Kethani, but this, sadly, is never developed. All in all, this is an interesting and fairly well-written novel but, for me, is strangely dissatisfying.
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