It takes an alien race to show us what humanitiy truly is. This is the irony faced by a group of friends whose lives are changed forever when the mysterious alien race known as the Kethani come to Earth bearing a dubious but amazing gift: immortality.
Kethani is a reality based what if? Quite different for a sci-fi story. Brown meditates, through a series of linked tales, on the affect on immortality on the human race, but its not just immortality we’re offered, it’s the chance to escape Earth and see the stars.
And what does humanity do with this gift? Sit in the pub. A lot. And this is the conflict I’m having with this novel. It’s a small-scale drama with a backdrop of something larger and life changing. I can’t help feeling a little disappointed.
Here’s why. Brown presents a series of interesting voices and takes on the how, even with promise of resurrection on death, we still need routine and we make connections that we hold on to. He examines our feelings around death. And all round does a good job.
But he leaves the aliens, well, alien. They’re almost as mysterious at the start as they are at the end. They have enemies but there is not explanation of who they might be or what the conflict is. They have amazing technology but we only get to see it from the surface.
Though the aliens aren’t the focus of this tale. We are. And Brown chooses a narrow focus with a reason so he can explore the wider implications for a group of friends of the aliens arrival. There is a doctor, a teacher, a priest, dry-stone-waller, in other words a mix of intelligent and insightful views to draw from. And there are some impressive insights about how we grow apart when we don’t try and how death can be a freedom as well as a devastation as well as how religion can or can’t transform to encompass new ideas.
On a technical level there is a couple of annoying traits. Everything seems to take place after a heavy snowfall and descriptions are sometimes repeated and some characters are more fleshed out than others. Some of these problems are routed in the fact that some of the sections have previously been short stories and could have been fixed I think with a little more polishing. This might seem picky but I did get drawn out of the story at a few times because of them.
I’m left with feeling that there was the potential to do a lot more with the alien material especially as it’s unlikely to have a sequel. But if it did it would have to be a different beast.
Putting aside my want to have more alien insight. Brown shows a skill for examining the human condition and how we look at death in an unconventional sci-fi story. It’s an insightful take that’s well worth reading but it might leave you wanting more, which isn’t really a bad thing, is it?
Don’t just take my word for it