Saturday, 2 August 2008

Kéthani, by Eric Brown


Sometime very soon, the alien race who call themselves the Kéthani arrive unannounced on Earth, their presence marked by towering white structures. They reveal their offer of eternal life for all people by means of resurrection technology. Many embrace this seemingly free offer while others reject it on the grounds of ethics, religion, philosophy, or simply mistrust. The story follows a number of ordinary folk in a small West Yorkshire town and the effect the Kéthani have on their lives. Will they choose life or ultimate death? Will they stay in their cosy familiar enclave or join the starfaring races?


Eric Brown was born in Haworth, Yorkshire in 1960. You can find out more about him and his work at


The principle theme of the book is eternal life here and now. Is the negation of death desirable? What is the effect that it will have on society? Does life need death to make it worth living or is striving for achievement due to our limited time here on Earth?

The Kéthani’s gift affects all the character’s lives. Some choose artificial life and some natural death, but these choices are never without consequences. Some have to make choices for others, such as their young or mentally handicapped children; should their convictions deny those in their responsibility the chance of life and their own choice?

The easy resurrection affects society. Murders die out, as the victim can return six months later to convict the guilty. Medicine changes from preserving life and treating serious diseases, to easing the passage of the afflicted. Those who return a subtly changed: their angers and aggressions are gone making them law abiding and constructive citizens. They are more humane, but are they less human?


There are a number of repeating elements in these stories. I suspect that many of them are because the book was originally published in the separate magazines and Eric Brown needed familiar structures to tie them together. These are:

  • The group of friends in the pub – Eastenders has the Queen Vic, Coronation Street has the Rover’s Return and Kéthani has The Fleece, where they only seem to serve Taylor’s Landlord
  • Snow in Yorkshire – it does not always snow up here, in fact snow seems rather scarce these days, but in Kéthani, it snows in nearly every story
  • Marital breakup – whether this is an effect of modern society, an effect of the immortality from the Kéthani, or just something the author likes to include, the characters generally struggle to maintain relationships
  • Drunk driving – was this because death has little meaning the risks are not considered or the assumption that this is regularly done in rural Yorkshire?
  • This book has no heroes, only ordinary people with ordinary lives in the shadow of monumental events


  • The upward stations are both a symbolic and literal pointer to the stars
  • Death as the start of an awfully big adventure, whether the individuals return to Earth or decide to travel the stars
  • Kéthani implants are literal symbols of the promised resurrection of the Kéthani. As society comes to expect everyone to have one, some of those who refuse have fake implants to deflect attention


Positive points

The modular aspect and writing style make it an easy book to read, whether on mass or chapter-by-chapter.

There are no heroes in this book, only ordinary people. As such, Kéthani examines how earth this shattering event effects not the great, but the every-day.

The themes are thought revoking, forcing you to ask yourself whether you would have the implant or not. Likewise, is eternal life hear-and-now an unalloyed benefit? Does eternal life increase your appreciation of life or reduce it?

Eric Brown paints a sympathetic yet neutral picture of how various religious organisations and people respond to the Kéthani’s gift.

Negative points

Lack of overall plot – the book, which was published as a series of short stories in science fiction magazines over ten years, lacks an overall flow or arcs. While this style and repetition would work in the original magazine context, in a novel it is too staccato.

Abandoned devices – such as the Kéthani’s enemies are introduced, raising interest of a sub plot or diversion. Unfortunately, this is dropped at the end of the chapter without any explanation or expansion.

There is no plot twist or surprise at the end – it turns out that everything was true and the Kéthani are as nice as they appear.

Inconsistencies such as the Kéthani want humanity to act as their ambassadors, but there are no other alien races mentioned in this role, implying that humanity is the first. The group suicide using cyanide was unrealistically peaceful.


Kéthani is both thought provoking and very readable. While it fails is in a lack of overall plot and characterisation, it raises many interesting questions regarding mortality and its place in society.


  1. best use it as reaction mass
  2. pot boiler suitable for the space port
  3. ok
  4. a good book that deserves another read
  5. genre defining classic that other books will orbit around

*** a good book but not one that will set the world alight

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An easy read particularly given the episodic nature of the book. Set in West Yorkshire it features regular meetings in a local pub where most of the time folks only seem to drink Timothy Taylor's Landlord and it seems to be bitterly cold all the time (no global warming in this timeline). It challenges the reader to consider what "eternal life" might mean from a secular viewpoint. One outcome was the gradual depopulation of Earth in this story ! as well as the gradual disappearance of major crime (particularly murder) and the cessation of research on cures for long term illnesses. The plotline could certainly have expanded on some of these outcomes and in particular left the reader wondering about how pure the motives of the Kethani really were. Overall an enjoyable easy to read book which perhaps could have delivered so much more.