Saturday, May 9, 2009

Kethani by Eric Brown

It is a rare thing these days to find a science fiction novel that does not, at its heart, contain something sinister or subtly horrible about the unknown. Most science fiction these days focuses either on interstellar war, alien occupation of Earth, or vast conspiracies to enslave man or destroy the fundamental human spirit of adventure. With the melding of mystery and suspense tropes into mainstream science fiction, the genre has become at once becme a darker and more suspect place than at any time in its past. That is, until recently.

I must admit that I had never heard of Eric Brown before picking up his novels Helix and Kethani about two weeks ago. They seemed interesting and what few reviews were quoted on the cover seemed respectable rather than the normal hodgepodge of writer testimonials seen on most paperbacks, and so I decided to pick both books up. I read Helix first and found it entertaining, enjoyable, and imaginative, but generally typical of the type of action story made popular by Arthur C. Clark in Rama (though I think that Helix is a far more ambitious concept and a better book for it). When I picked up Kethani, though, I prepared myself for more of the same, but what I found was far more interesting.

Imagine, if you will, a world where an alien race has mysteriously appeared on Earth to give the human race functional immortality and the keys to life among the stars. Now imagine seeing the changes wrought by that action written across twenty years and seen through the eyes of common folk living out on the moors of Yorkshire in England. OK, now that you have that firmly in mind, imagine a series of individual stories told by members of a group of men and women who meet every Tuesday at the local pub to discuss life, the Kethani, death, ressurection, and their own personal stories of the world as it evolved.

This is far from the simple story one would suppose, however. No, there are no sinister evil plots, the resurrection technology does not turn folks into soylent green, there are no horrors from beyond, people are not experimented on or coerced into doing anything, and no, it is not a cook book. What complicates the story is what complicates common, ordinary, everyday folks: life, love, death, and decisions. The story is filled with personal anecdotes about a race coming of age and coming to grips with the changes engendered by the Kethani's gift. There is suspense in each story, but it is a suspense born of hopefulness rather than fear. Even the two great mystery stories in the book are less whodunnits and more along the lines of how do people cope with life and death in a world with immortality by proxy for those who choose to avail themselves of it.

430 pages of deep thought, philosophy, and high concept science fiction await you if you pick up Eric Brown's Kethani, and if that sort of thing appeals to you as much as it did to me, then I highly recommend that you grab a copy and gobble it up.

THAC0: 10
While this is a great book, not everyone will enjoy the stories, and the lack of action, adventure, or suspense really make this more a story for fans of philosophy, character development, and secular humanism than anything else.

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0 from the old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The idea is that the lower the number, the lower you need to roll to score a hit. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number I believe, on a scale of 1-20, that I think this will be a hit with you, the reader. 1 means that I think that pretty much everyone will love this book/movie/show and 20 means that almost nobody will like it.

Tune in tomorrow when I review Helix, and keep your eyes open as I try to actually provide reviews all week long (after all, I have read a lot of books since January).

1 comment:

EricB said...

Hi Todd,

Many thanks for this review, and the one of Helix. It's much appreciated; you hit the nail on the head with your comments on both.

Eric Brown