Author: Eric Brown
Publisher: Solaris • 294 pages • £10.99
Do yourself a favour and read this book before you die. Unlike the characters in Kéthani, you won’t get a second chance, and to miss out on this quite extraordinary novel would border on criminal negligence. What we have here is a bona fide timeless classic. Thoughtful, thought-provoking and charming, it could have been written any time in the last 100 years (give or take a few references to mobile phones and Euros) and still be just as emotive.
This is the story of the politest invasion of them all – if it is an invasion. Are the Kéthani, who turn up on Earth but never show themselves (or reveal that much about themselves) Greeks bearing gifts or saviours of the human race? Either way, their offer of eternal life changes the course of history and could spell the end of civilisation as we know it. But is that a bad thing? The book doesn’t give any pat answers, but raises a lot of intriguing questions.
Constructed from a series of short stories published over the last decade or so (with new linking text) it’s astonishingly focused. There are no battles, no lasers, not much action at all. Instead the book concentrates on a small group of buddies in a small Yorkshire village, each story looking at the way the offer of eternal life impacts on the individuals, in terms of their religion, their relationships, their ambitions and their understanding of their own humanity.
There’s the feel of John Wyndham about the book, in the way it deals with ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances, and an aching feeling of ennui as the snow-covered Dales reflect a society in which progress has frozen. But who’s to say that the Kéthani aren’t simply the New Gods, giving us the afterlife religion always promised, and that heaven really is in the stars?