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Monday, May 19, 2008

“Kéthani” by Eric Brown

Official Eric Brown Website
Official Solaris Books Website
Order “Kéthani
Read An Excerpt
Read Reviews of “KéthaniHERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Eric Brown has been a published writer since 1987 with an extensive bibliography that features several novels, five novellas, and seven children’s books as well as over eighty short stories which have won the author two British Science Fiction Awards. His latest works include “Starship Summer” (PS Publishing), “Helix” (Solaris Books) and the upcoming science fiction novel “Necropath”, Book One of The Bengal Station Trilogy. Eric also writes a monthly SF review column for The Guardian.

PLOT SUMMARY: When a mysterious alien race known as the Kéthani make contact with the people of Earth, bringing with them the gift of eternal life, the world is forever changed. Centered on a group of friends in a small West Yorkshire village, “Kéthani” explores how the human race has been changed, not just in their worldviews, religiously and philosophically, but also on a much more personal level, including love, friendship, and humanity. 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?

CLASSIFICATION:Kéthani” is best described as ‘soft’ or ‘social science fiction’, meaning there’s very little technology or action involved, with the book mainly concentrating on characterization and the cultural impact that immortality could have on humankind in this day and age. Recommended for readers who like their science fiction low-tech, poignant, and contemplative…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 294 pages, divided over ten chapters which are actually short stories that have appeared in previous publications like
Interzone, Spectrum and Postscripts with the exception of “Matthew’s Passion” co-written with Tony Ballantyne. Connecting together the ten short stories are a Prelude, Coda and ten Interludes all narrated in the first-person by main protagonist Khalid Azzam. Khalid also narrates two of the short stories, with the others presented by different characters, all in the first-person except for two that are third-person. The stories them selves recount events that occur over a period of twenty years after the Kéthani presented humans with their ‘gift’. Also included in the book is a preview of Eric’s next novel “Necropath” which is slated for release October 2008 via Solaris Books.

May 6, 2008 marks the North American and UK paperback publication of “Kéthani” (
Solaris Books). Cover art is provided by John Harris.

ANALYSIS: Originally I was going to look at all ten short stories individually, but then decided against it, mainly because I didn’t want to spoil anything for the reader. You see, each short story is like a mystery that examines different aspects of humanity, so if I were to give out the details it would probably ruin the surprises or lessen the emotional impact that each tale has to offer.

All you really need to know is that a benevolent alien race known as the Kéthani has landed on Earth offering immortality to humankind. As far as the process of resurrection which includes implants, nanotechnology, and a six-month instruction period on the planet Kéthan; the reason for the aliens’ gift—the official statement is so humans can work as ambassadors in bringing the word of the Kéthani to other races & planets—and the Kéthani themselves; very little is revealed with the book focusing instead on the sociological effect that immortality has on mankind.

In particular, “Kéthani” revolves around a group of friends—including a doctor, police officer, academic, high school teacher, professional cornet player, a Catholic priest, dry-stone waller, ferryman, and a writer—who hang out at a local pub in Oxenworth, England and the personal impact that the aliens have had on their lives with death, marriage and love the most prominent themes, although religion and philosophy are also represented.

From these stories, Eric Brown offers a deeply emotional and unforgettable glimpse at how the world might be changed if immortality, especially the Kéthani’s version of eternal life—people not only live forever, but come back healthier, younger and more humane with the allure of the stars at their fingertips—was suddenly in our grasp. Think about it. A world where the specter of death is banished, where suicide means a whole new beginning, where criminals and the terminally/mentally ill can have a second chance, where faith and the afterlife are challenged, and where maxims like “time heals all wounds” and “true love lasts forever” are given new perspectives…

It’s just an incredibly fascinating scenario and Eric does a spectacular job of exploring this concept in-depth, although I was left with several questions. For instance, after resurrection do you still grow old—I was just wondering because at least one resurrectee does—can you get injured or ill, and if you come back more humane so that crime is no longer an issue, wouldn’t you stop engaging in such destructive habits as drinking?

Writing-wise, Eric’s experience as an award-winning author is on full display in this book. The prose is graceful; the characters—with the exception of the narrative voices all sounding strangely the same—are
rich and emotive; the storytelling is crafty and powerful; and even though “Kéthani” is essentially a series of old short stories linked together by a framing device, the novel flows along smoothly and ends on a high note, while teasing the reader with possibilities of another Kéthani tale :)

CONCLUSION: Last year I overlooked Eric Brown’sHelix” and vowed not to make that same mistake with “Kéthani”. In return, I was rewarded with a brilliantly conceived and written novel about humanity that I’m going to be thinking about for a very long time. Utterly compelling, wonderfully thought-provoking and deeply moving, Eric Brown's "Kéthani" is a must-read...


Kimberly Swan said...

I really do love that new review format. :) I haven't had a chance to read any of Mr. Brown's work, but this does sound tempting. Great review. :)

Mihai A. said...

Robert I think I saw your blog being quoted on the review blurb of "Winterbirth".
CONGRATS! This is great news, I'm more than happy for you.

Janet said...

I am looking forward to reading it. The local library has ordered a copy at my request; I'm just waiting for it to come in.

Robert said...

Kimberly, it's a very good book. Not your typical SF novel and it's one that a lot of readers can relate to...

Mihai, thanks! Yeah I just saw that on Aidan's blog. It's pretty neat :)

Janet, that's pretty cool about your library ordering it for you ;) I hope you enjoy it!

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