Eric Brown – Kéthani

It takes an alien race to show us our humanity.

When a mysterious alien race known as the Kéthani make contact with the people of Earth they bring with them the dubious gift of eternal life. These enigmatic aliens will change the course of the human race forever but also touch people’s lives on a personal level, not least in a small town in the English coutryside. But do the Kéthani have a hidden agenda and will the human race choose to evolve or turn in on itself in the face of this momentous revelation?

I’m not much of a SF reader. I’ve always maintained I didn’t do SF, until I started reading my husband’s Kris Longknife books and loved them. Since then I’ve been trying to expand my reading and try more SF. After reading Mark’s reviews of Eric Brown’s books over at Walker of Worlds, I really wanted to try his books and having read Cara’s review of Kéthani over at Speculative Book Review, that seemed a good place to start. And if Kéthani is anything to go by, I think I need to read more of Brown’s books. It was such an interesting read, that I kept turning pages, despite saying I’d put the book away at the end of the chapter. I was hooked.

Kéthani is a collection and reworking of several interconnected short stories. Only the prologue, interludes, epilogue and one story were specifically written for this book. Yet despite this, the narrative never felt cobbled together, it was cohesive and if it hadn’t been mentioned, I wouldn’t have guessed. The book doesn’t feel very SF-y, since it is more a psychological study of man’s reaction to the choice of immortality. The SF seems incidental to this. Something else that contributes to this is that the book feels cosy, for lack of a better word. It’s all set in this little village in the English countryside and since many of the stories are set in winter, with snow, cold and roaring hearth fires, this feeling of small-scale cosiness is only reinforced.

Brown provides no direct explanations, no info dumps, we find things out through the narrative. And while each chapter answers some questions, it always raises more. The alien technology is kept deliberately vague and Earth seems to remain relatively low-tech; apart from the implants and the Onward stations, there doesn’t seem to be any real alien technology on Earth. In the end most of my practical questions were answered. For example, I kept wondering how Earth hadn’t exploded population-wise and whether they were truly immortal. At the end I knew, the answers were there in the stories.

The moral questions raised by Kéthani remain largely unanswered however. We are told how the characters in the book handle them, but this is largely conveyed without any judgement attached. It is left to the reader to form an opinion about the right or wrong of their actions and whether the coming of the Kéthani is ultimately a good thing for humanity. This is what made the book so compelling and thought-provoking. I found my thoughts going back to mull over some of the characters dilemmas and choices even after I’d finished Kéthani. That is the quiet power of this book; at it’s core it isn’t about aliens, it’s about humanity.

Apart from its thought-provoking themes, Kéthani also contains some cracking stories. From a locked-room mystery to a quiet romance, to the heart-rending story of a father and his mortally-ill daughter, they all have something to keep the reader’s attention. I absolutely adored this book and I’ll be sure to pick up more of Eric Brown’s books when I can. I highly recommend this book, even if you’re normally not much of an SF reader, the story is a great introduction to SF and to the work of Eric Brown and definitely worth the read.