Review | Kéthani by Eric Brown (Solaris)

The Kethani are a peaceful alien race that make first contact on Earth in the early 21st century. White columns mysteriously appear across the globe at the same time causing questions and confusion. Shortly after all the world governments informed everyone of the arrival of the Kethani and the gift they have bought humanity: immortality. The stories contained within this collection are focused on a group of friends living in a small village in Yorkshire and the effects that the coming of the Kethani have on them and their lives.

I will be honest - when I picked up Kethani I wasn't aware it was simply a collection of short stories. This threw me a little, but after starting to read it and getting through the first story I was hooked and couldn't have been happier about the format. Speaking of the format, Kethani is made up of 10 stories (only one of which is original to this collection) along with a new prelude, coda and linking sections adding a little more to make it feel like a linked story rather than separate shorts.

All of these sections are told through the eyes of Khalid, our main character of sorts, who does a good job to give an overview that is just right. As for the stories, to use Khalid's words:

"Over the course of the next fifteen years I came to know a group of people in the village of Oxenworth who became dear to me. It is through the eyes of these people that I wish to tell the story of how the coming of the Kethani affected the lives of everyone on Earth. Much has been written about the gift of the elusive aliens, and I cannot claim that what follows is in any way original. What is special about this document, I think, is that it concentrates on the small-scale lives of the ordinary, everyday people during this unique time of change."

Each of the stories is focused on one of the group of friends and give a little more towards the overall arc about the Kethani. We learn about how the Kethani operate on Earth, how wary many people are to their promises, how the prejudices of many can have a startling effect on other peoples lives, and we learn what sort of contact the Kethani have with humanity. In essence Kethani is an examination of humanity from different perspectives and how people deal with something that at first appears too good to be true. It also looks at how we deal with death, and how different the perspective is when it can be overcome, something that it does quite effectively on a few occasions.

What you won't find here is a wide screen space opera that examines the Kethani and what happens out among the stars, but you will find a collection of stories that make you stop and think, not just about what Eric Brown is saying, but about your own views and beliefs. Kethani is a truly stunning collection that will have an enduring effect on me. This is without a doubt one of the most heartfelt, emotional and profound books I've read in a long time and is thoroughly deserving of anyone's time. Highly, highly recommended.

Dave  – (22 December 2008 at 15:51)  

Wonderful, I'll definitely pick this up when I see it. :-) I also didn't know it was a collection of shorts. Great review, thanks Mark. :-)

SciFiGuy  – (22 December 2008 at 18:51)  

Short story collections aren't my thing but first contact stories are always fun. Lovely cover.

James  – (24 December 2008 at 16:13)  

I felt that there were some issues with repetition (endless scenes in The Fleece) and that some of the short stories were more powerful than others, but overall it was a good, thought-provoking novel.

Mark Chitty  – (27 December 2008 at 09:36)  

Dave - thanks! Definitely one to pick up :)

SciFiGuy - The cover is rather nice and by the excellent John Harris. I think Solaris are doing a different one for the mass market release, not as good though. Have a look here: http://tinyurl.com/8ojbx2

James - I can see where you're coming from (on both counts) but I felt the comfort and familiarity of The Fleece contributed heavily towards the more individual approach to the Kethani.

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