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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science fiction with a difference - a great read
Alien invasion - not a concept that conjures up images of calm, peace and non-violence. In Eric Brown's The Serene Invasion our preconceptions, not to mention those of the billions of men, women and children on Earth, are challenged by the arrival of a species that is intent solely on fostering peace across a planet on the verge of losing life thanks to its human...
Published 10 months ago by Kate

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3.0 out of 5 stars Not one of EB's best?
Went on a bit and then ended quite abrubtly. I didn't consider it as good as other EB efforts but that might just be me.

Interestingly, I only finished reading this about 4 days ago but it's already fading from memory, so it didn't hold my attention like other books or engage me as well as it could have.
Published 23 days ago by PJ Online


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science fiction with a difference - a great read, 12 Sep 2013
By 
Kate (Oxford, Oxon United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Serene Invasion (Paperback)
Alien invasion - not a concept that conjures up images of calm, peace and non-violence. In Eric Brown's The Serene Invasion our preconceptions, not to mention those of the billions of men, women and children on Earth, are challenged by the arrival of a species that is intent solely on fostering peace across a planet on the verge of losing life thanks to its human inhabitants. The Serene has done it before for other worlds. Now it's time for Earth to be put in its place.

From the very beginning, The Serene Invasion pulls at the imagination, provoking contemplation about mankind's relationship to violence and aggression. Most significantly, is it inherent? The opening chapters suggests that it is. Even though there is much good in the world, there are evil forces who would crush it without hesitation. There is also innocence, even in the poorest of places, but here too there are predators. Sally Walsh is a doctor in Uganda, putting herself at risk to save lives. As the novel begins she and a colleague are kidnapped by bandits and face certain death. At the very moment when violence is to be inflicted the perpetrators are unable physically to carry it out. They spasm. Their bodies repelling violent action. Across the globe in India, orphaned children play chicken with the trains at Howrah station. Ani Devi falls prey to a monster in fat human form, Sanjeev. But she too is safe. Sanjeev cannot bring the stick down on her back. At the same time, starships settle above the planet.

For the next thirty years - in ten-year jumps - we follow Earth's pacification by the Serene through the experiences of Sally, her intended husband Geoff and Ani. Geoff and Ani are `enlisted' by the agents of the Serene, travelling all over the Earth to do their work but sometimes left unable to remember what has happened to them. But while this might seem sinister and dangerous - and there are some humans who most certainly do think it is - we are constantly reminded that this is a different kind of story. Our preconceptions are not always right. Our expectations have shifted.

As the Serene establish wondrous cities, feed nations and water deserts, the desire for violence dissipates. Even killing for food is not allowed. Everything has changed and it makes one realise how deeply violence against fellow men or animals is folded into human life. Without it, industries change. They become less aggressive, less dominating. Their goals are different. All of this makes life uneasy for men such as James Morwell who, on losing his multi-billion dollar business, finds he can't even kill himself. His goal is to work out a way in which violence can be done. He's fortunate. He's given a helping hand by an unusual force.

The Serene Invasion is a novel as much about ideas as it is about these characters' experiences. As they deal with a society in which violence has been replaced by the force of forgiveness, a form of vengeance, we ask questions about human choices, motivations and relationships. Alongside this are descriptions of wondrous cities - and they are beautiful and stunning to imagine - as well as transformed landscapes. We also get to know Geoff and Sally in particular very well. We learn more about the mysteries of their work for the Serene and the wider mission of these strange invaders but the emphasis is on how they find happiness together. There is, though, as the novel continues through the years, a growing threat that it could all collapse around them.

This is a wonderful book. I loved everything about it. It starts off with intense action and drama and then it transforms before our eyes. Set only a few decades in our future, it hints at a message that we should look about us before it is too late. But, above all else, The Serene Invasion is absorbing and uplifting, driven by characters I cared about and full of memorable, often beautiful, moments.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well developed story, 27 Oct 2013
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This review is from: The Serene Invasion (Paperback)
I have read a few of Eric Browns books before so it was not a difficult choice to make when I got his new one in my hand. I don't know how many Sf books I have read about alien invasions of Earth but this one was different. The Aliens arrive and transform the entire population and our planet in a few decades to some sort of heaven. There is no more violence, no poverty, no starvation etc.

Of course there are opposition to this, both human and alien, but it is rendered ineffective by the good aliens without much effort.

We follow a number of humans in this fantastic change during more than three decades. It is a very well crafted story and Mr Brown has built an interesting world populated with real and convincing people. The Story gets hold of you and you want to know if they will succeed or if all will ultimately fail. I have to confess that you could see the developments in advance but still it was well wort reading and another fine book by Mr Brown.

But in the end you sit down and wonder, is this really heaven or would I be bored stiff if I lived there? I probably would but for many others it might be just what they want.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First contact done well, 20 Feb 2014
By 
Mark Chitty (North Wales) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Serene Invasion (Paperback)
The Serene Invasion by Eric Brown is the author's return to the topic of first contact, much like his linked Kethani stories. The arrival of the Serene brings about a quick and decisive end to violence on Earth, with humans no longer able to commit any acts of aggresion towards each other. With this stark forced change in behaviour, many of the human race praise the intervention, while others simply cannot accept such a massive and unwelcome intrusion. What follows is a look at the changes wrought on humanity, how the representatives of the Serene help guide those around them, and how some simply cannot accept the gift they have given.

Brown manages to tell a gripping and very detailed account of such a change. Not only does he look at the immediate effects fo such an act, but he also shows the longer term effects of the coming of the Serene. While the transition is not entirely without problems, Brown is able to present both sides through various characters, their personal attachements, and just what they want for the future. The Serene Invasion is a quick and compelling read with big ideas and comments on societal change that will stay with you past the story's conclusion. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great book by Eric Brown, 22 May 2013
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This review is from: The Serene Invasion (Paperback)
There is something about Eric Brown books that just make me happy and this book is no exception. This book is just over 500 pages long and I got through it in no time at all, found it very difficult to put down. This is one of my favourite story lines, Aliens coming and saving the world type. All the way through I was always excited about something that was about to happen and was never disappointed. It didn't have what I think of as a big ending but did have a happy ending. Also the story is in a position so that it would be easy for Eric to write more, well I hope so anyway.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not one of EB's best?, 7 July 2014
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Went on a bit and then ended quite abrubtly. I didn't consider it as good as other EB efforts but that might just be me.

Interestingly, I only finished reading this about 4 days ago but it's already fading from memory, so it didn't hold my attention like other books or engage me as well as it could have.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Probing the human emotions of doubt and forgiveness, 27 May 2013
By 
M-I-K-E 2theD "2theD" (The Big Mango, Thailand) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Serene Invasion (Paperback)
Aside from Eric Brown, I can't name any respectable modern authors who can push out two novels a year. John Brunner was prolific in the 1960s and 1970s, Greg Bear has two novels published in 1985, and Joe Haldeman has two novels publish in 1983. But since this time, I can't point to any respectable author which has a consistent turnout of two novels per year. If you disregard the adjective "respectable", one could include Kevin J. Anderson in this affair, but his inclusion is any list besides "Authors I Avoid" is a dubious distinction (averaging 3.54 novels per year since 2000). Eric Brown, however, has produced two novels in one year on four occasions:
* 1999: Penumbra and Walkabout
* 2004: New York Dreams and Bengal Station
* 2009: Xenopath and Necropath
* 2012: The Devil's Nebula and Helix Wars

Here in 2013, Eric Brown is again publishing two new novels; on May 9th he released a stand-alone featured here, The Serene Invasion, and on July 30th he'll release Satan's Reach, a sequel to The Devil's Nebula. While he matches the quantitative definition of success, Brown has been letting me down on the qualitative side. He is a cauldron of ideas akin to Brian Aldiss or John Brunner, but his books tend to be more longer yet more mediocre. But with the drought of decent new novels published every year (eons of pain waiting for Banks, Reynolds, and Hamilton, mainly), I look to Eric Brown for a spritz of modern sci-fi. Thankfully, The Serene Invasion delivers, albeit after a bumpy ride.

Rear cover synopsis:
"In 2025, the Serene arrive from Delta Pavonis V, and change mankind's destiny forever. The gentle aliens bring peace to an ailing world--a world riven by war, terrorism and poverty, by rising conflicts over natural resources--and offer an end to need and violence. But not everyone supports the seemingly benign invasion. There are those who benefit from conflict, who cherish chaos, and they will stop at nothing to bring back the old days.

When Sally Walsh is kidnapped by terrorists and threatened with death, it seems that only a miracle can save her life. Geoff Allen, photojournalist, is contacted by the Serene and offered the opportunity to work with the aliens in their mission. For Sally, Geoff, and billions of other citizens of Earth, nothing will ever be the same again..."

------------

In northern desert plains of Uganda, Sally Walsh is a doctor on a humanitarian mission healing the ill of the impoverished region, but much of her disheartening work is caring for the dead rather than the recovering. Contemplating an early retirement after five years, Sally is kidnapped with her colleague by extremists from the Sudanese border. If she and Ben can survive the ordeal through common sense, Sally is assured of her retirement, but the radical ideas of the extremists have one mission: the beheading of the infidels. Ben's head is literally on the chopping block and a gun is pointed at Sally, but the impulse to kill either is vanquished by, what seems at the time to be, a miracle.

Geoff Allen is aboard a flight from London to Entebbe to see Sally while on a photojournalism jaunt to capture images of elephants in the wild. He's abruptly stricken with a sense of time lag, followed by a hallucination of being laid out, examined, implanted with a device in his skull, and told "Do not be afraid" (53). Surfacing from his torpid state, Geoff realizes that he alone experienced the time lag, yet far below the plane on the African desert are enigmatic domes. Common sense suggests blaming the Chinese.

All around the world, the urge to commit acts of violence with met with a sudden lapse in muscle control; wars cease, hate crimes halt, and even suicides stutter to an unfulfilled desire. Suddenly at 11:31 GMT, Eight starships appear in the skies of earth, silent in their spectacle and mysterious in their silence. Their point of convergence seems to be an isolated region on the deserts of Mali; ground zero is an arid wasteland with no significance to the human race. The ships join in a massive snowflake-shaped ensemble and send an intense beam downwards to the desert, from which springs an oasis of flora and fauna unknown since the myth of Eden.

Soon, Geoff Allen and 9,999 others like him congregate at the request of the peaceful invaders. The aliens from Delta Pavonis V, representatives of a scare but benevolent race called the S'rene, have a message for the selected few of earth, chosen for their humanity and empathy:

We are intervening here on Earth because your race has, in the past few hundred years since what you term your industrial revolution, grown exponentially, a growth fuelled by a fatal combination of political greed and lack of foresight. What is even more tragic in your situation is that many of you--both on an individual level and on that of institutions--know very well what needs to be done in order to prevent a global catastrophe, but cannot enact change for the better because power and vested interest rest in the hands of the few ....No shame should accrue in light of these facts; no individual is really at fault. The process was vastly complex and incremental, a slow-motion, snowballing suicide impossible to stop. A hundred, thousand races across the face of the galaxy have perished in this way, before we had the wherewithal to step in and correct the aberrant ways of emerging races. (161-162)

"The galaxy teems with life, with civilizations, a concordance rich beyond your imagination" (139) yet not everyone on Earth is especially happy with the inescapable non-violence--mainly the makers of arms, the war machines, and, above all, James Morwell Jnr., owner the American corporate entity of Morwell Enterprises. In addition to the complete cessation of arms sales and the resulting dive in his company's stock, James is also unable to partake in his form of pleasure: masochism. For this, he damns the passive aliens and establishes a digital community of directed distrust of the S'rene. Coddling James' hatred for the Serene are the opponent alien species, the domineering Obterek, who contact James and supply him with five devices which enable them to "read" the minds of any human Serene representative they can find; however, the representatives are not easily tracked and the Serene are not easily defeated. The two races have been at odds for millennia and each knows the other's weaknesses.

The representatives of the Serene describe themselves as "self-aware entities" and are "living, biological beings, self-aware, individual, conscious" (171) but grown and programmed with the interests of the Serene, their mentor race and benevolent saviors. The honor of meeting a living Serene is a rare occurrence as they are spread across the many light-years and none are found in Earth's realm. Their projects for the human race include terraforming Mars and Venus, yet at the edge of the solar system, an aberration in the occlusion of some stars causes concern for astronomers and the pessimists.

By 2035, the people have Earth have grown use to the munificent offerings of the S'rene; kilometer tall towers of habitation spire above urban landscapes, oases of paradise dot the most desolate regions of terrain, and the aliens maintain they have "the best interests of the human race at heart" (475). The 10,000 or so human representatives, less now because serving the interests of the Serene is always an option, are subsumed for two days per month on mysterious duties related to the Serene Invasion. With no memory of their two-day duty, speculation of the Serene's greater intentions is at the top of some representatives' minds while others exalt the invader's benevolence and ignore any doubts.

Eventually, the Obterek are able to penetrate the quantum-state of the Serene's non-violence sphere around Earth, resulting in an outright assault by the neon blue bipedal figures of the Obterek and dozens of human victims. Yet, the golden hued translucent bodies of the "self-aware entities" to the scene, entomb the human victims within themselves, and heal them in the giant ebon obelisks which tower above every major city. At the same time, the Serene also penetrate the bodies of their militaristic opponents, stopping the carnage and saving every human life at the scene.

Even in 2045, with twenty years of serenity on Earth, the peacefulness has spread to the colonies of Mars, moons, and asteroids. Humanity expands and flourishes under matriarchal supervision, but the Obterek are not without their ploys to subvert the progress. Dreams of human utopia seem to be realized with nations dissolving, selfish interests waning, and self-righteous exfoliating from the human ego:

They worked together increasingly without the boundaries of nations to impede progress with concerns of petty national interest, freed from the malign influence of multinational business corporations. Religions had mellowed even the more radial sects of Christianity and Islam which in the past had threatened head-to-head conflict; millions still believed, but without the self-righteous fervor of old. New cults had sprung up, many with the Serene at their core. Of the old faiths, Buddhism was increasing in popularity, as citizens drew parallels between the ways of the Serene and the philosophy of Siddhartha Gautama. (459-460)

Still, the humans, and the 10,000-odd representatives among, question whether the Serene have any ulterior motives and whether the Obterek represent a legitimate opposition to the efforts of the Serene. Perhaps humanity isn't destined to populate the galaxy, their local stars, or even their home system.

------------

I was chary of the effectiveness of novel's theme: aliens come to Earth and save humanity from their human nature. The caginess validated itself in the first 300-400 pages of the novel where various predictable elements manifested themselves: an unforeseen alien adversary (Obterek) and a skeptical human with the power to influence others (James). Surely, these two forces would join to attempt a disestablishment of the Serene presence, somehow parry the quantum-state non-violence enforcement, and ultimately allow for the Obterek to "supplant the Serene" (435).

Then the last 100 pages started to expand on the efforts of the Serene to establish humanity amid their solar system with colonization of numerous celestial bodies. The 20-30 years of serenity had failed to produce a single human-on-human act of violence; therefore, their initial intention of creating a non-violent humanity had been successful and who are the puny humans to question the "authority" of a non-violence which their own religions stipulate in their respective texts. Eventually, the habit of tranquility mutes any sensation of contempt or ungratefulness; allow the humans a period of adjustment and the consistency of habit and they'll follow you anywhere. The Serene read the humans perfectly... after all, they had over a hundred years with which to observe us in situ.

But Serene Invasion isn't about creating a human utopia or peopling the orbiting bodies of sol; Serene Invasion is about acceptance and forgiveness. Over time, Sally is able to forgive her captor; Ana, an Indian woman and part of the human representative body, is able to forgive her brother's desertion; and again, Sally is able to forgive the subterfuge which her friend Kath has led her through for most of her life. These characters accept, forgive, progress, and succeed while adjusting to all scenarios. Then there's James who doesn't forgive his abusive father, doesn't forgive the Serene for disallowing him to commit suicide, and doesn't forgive his assistant for treachery and abandonment. Predictably yet suitably, his fate isn't as glamorous or glorious as the those with peace of mind. While the aliens are able to enforce a physical peace in society's eye, it's up to the individual human to achieve peace of mind.

Serene's blanket non-violence isn't without its controversy, however. James takes it upon himself to somehow undermine the quantum-state aura of non-violence so that he may achieve a small victory against the Serene: violence against self, the death of self through suicide. The Serene deprive humanity of this last grip of self-control, the control of one's fate at one's own hand. James takes his idea to the extreme: isolating himself asea with no provisions, walking in the Amazon without heed to heat, thirst, hunger or danger, and free soloing a rock edifice with a gun in hand (this method abusing the Serene's intervention of "spasming" when committing violence). But the omniscience of the serene invaders quash his attempts and fuel his commitment to their defeat.

------------

Serene Invasion, regardless of its utopian aim and predictable elements of confrontation, comes out extolling positive human virtues and shining optimism in parallel to Alastair Reynolds' Blue Remembered Earth (2012). The novel exhibits the common, yet typically suppressed, human emotions of forgiveness and virtue over those more flamboyant and cynical kneejerk reactions of pessimism, suspicion, and illogical obduracy. The Serene's blanket issue of non-violence isn't without flaw; while the Obterek orate the of the Serene using the humans to spread "their own unnatural edicts, their own perverted ideals" (435), humanity must take what it can get, take the lesser of two evils: possible self-destruction through mankind's own during or guided like a child to an earthly utopian diaspora, albeit without control over one's own life, suicide or not.

Serene Invasion doesn't ooze as much emotion as The Fall of Tartarus, but it does give the reader more room for reflection upon the standards by which we judge benevolence, generosity, self-directed volition of self and society, and, most importantly, of doubting the hand that feeds you:

There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills. --- Siddhartha Gautama
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great idea let down by poor everything else, 12 Nov 2013
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Great high concept idea of an alien race forcing a state of non-violence on humanity. I felt it failed to live up it's premise however, shallow characters go about their business as humanity seems to largely go about their's. When the countering aliens do show up they don't seem to do very much at all. Perhaps a lack of drama is the problem here, but I found myself waiting for an existentially transformational experience that didn't turn up. I felt this about Helix too, great big massive lovely high concept sci-fi idea with little to back it up. Some of the exposition dumps carried through dialogue were spectacularly awful.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars smashing-as always, 24 July 2013
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well, It's Mr Brown isn't it? I'm not giving away anything here-just that if you like Eric's stuff you'll love this-nice to escape for a while.....
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quiet, but powerful story of alien invasion., 31 May 2013
My first encounter with Eric Brown's work was his wonderful Kéthani, which I adored. It was followed last year by The Devil's Nebula, the first in Abaddon's Weird Space series, which I also enjoyed immensely. And I've had his Kings of Eternity on my shelves since it came out and keep meaning to read it as Brown's SF seems to click for me. So when Solaris sent me an eARC for the book I immediately added it to my reading queue to be read around publication date. Two and half months later, here we are, and I finally got to confirm for myself that Eric Brown really does seem to tickle my science fiction bone, because I really enjoyed The Serene Invasion.

Twelve years from now, in 2025, the world is different, but still quite recognisably ours and the conflicts and global problems are largely the same as they are today. We first encounter Dr Sally Walsh as she comes off shift at a Red Cross hospital in Kallani, Uganda. She and her co-worker are kidnapped by fundamentalists and about to be executed when something prevents it. Something happens ... and Sally and her friend are able to escape with their lives. But their experience isn't the only one. Everywhere on the globe acts of violence have become impossible. No murders, muggings, beatings, rape; anyone who tries to perpetrate violence freezes or spasms as it becomes known until he gives up trying to harm another. It's the first inkling humanity has of the arrival of the Serene, a race of aliens bent on protecting Earth and saving humanity from itself. After Sally's miraculous escape we're quickly introduced to the other main players in the book: Geoff Allen, Sally's husband-to-be, James Morwell Jr, multi-billionaire and ruthless business man, and Ana Devi, a young street girl from Kolkata. All of them will be greatly affected by the coming of the Serene, like the rest of humanity, but they are the prisms through which the reader witnesses the events unfold. While we do get some glimpses of their backgrounds, mostly we focus on their present and their reactions to the coming of the Serene. Reactions range far and wide, but our quartet seems divided unevenly, with Morwell being dead set against what he sees as an unwanted intrusion on humanity's right to free evolution through violence - unsurprising as much of his fortune comes from weapon manufacture and trade - and Sally, Geoff, and Ana embracing the Serene's coming and their attendant philosophies. After witnessing the first flurry of monumental change, the story quickly jumps forward ten years.

In 2035, life has settled down under the Serene's guidance. Society has changed unrecognisably; with the banishment of violence by the imposition of the charea, the Serene's way of ensuring non-violence, and the creation by the Serene of large, fertile tracts of land in what used to be deserts all over the world, poverty, hunger, and disease have been almost eradicated. Our various protagonists have settled into productive lives. Sally as a country doctor, Geoff as a photographer and Ana as a manager of a large farm in India. The latter two are also active as representatives of the Serene, which means that they spent two days a month in the employ of the Serene, without being aware what they are doing. The only one who hasn't accepted the new world order is Morwell. A man of violent tastes, his life has collapsed around him and he secretly tries to overthrow the Serene and get life to return to the way it was. While following around our protagonists and seeing what would happen if a scenario like the Serene's arrival were to happen, was fascinating, at this point I started wondering where the plot to the book was. What would be the thing that created tension? Morwell's anti-Serene movement could have been such, but is mostly dismissed by the Serene themselves as outliers and of small consequence. Enter the Obterek, the hereditary enemies of the Serene. If the Serene stand for a world structured through peace and non-violence, the Obterek embody the idea of Survival of the Fittest or the Natural Way, as they call it. With their appearance tensions enters the narrative and conflict is introduced. But with the action also comes a distancing of the characters; they are still the prisms through which we witness the narrative, but they feel far less intimate than before. It's like we zoom out to observe a large scope of action and as such lose the close connection to the main characters.

Fast-forward another ten years. In 2045 all the tensions and struggles come to a head in a rather muted violent crescendo, which actually fits perfectly with the Serene's philosophy of non-violence and the way the big scene is written. I won't go into the events described in this section further, so as not to ruin the plot. In this last main part of the narrative, the book becomes even more thoughtful and thought-provoking. The narrative raises a lot of questions. For example, humanity doesn't have a meat farming industry anymore, as they can't kill the animals to eat them. So no more meat for humans, but what about the carnivores; what do they eat? Do lions, tigers, and bears just starve? Do they change into scavengers? Since we meet animals of prey, it seems at least some of them survive, but the how is never answered. If we go back to humanity and their evolution: is violence part of human nature or an aberration? Does the Serene inhibition of these primal instincts change humanity or damage humans psychologically? Another question that's left open, mostly to allow the reader to draw her own conclusions, I think. As the questions and dilemma's become less immediate and more profound, the book continues to draw away from the protagonists' deeper emotions to focus more on this process of human change and adaptation to their new circumstances, both those changed by the charea and by humanity's diaspora throughout our solar system.

The Serene Invasion ends in 2055. Thirty years after the coming of the Serene, humanity, Earth and our Solar system have been irrevocably changed; for the better, one would hope. While The Serene Invasion remains very much a work social science fiction, the scope is far larger and, in the end, less personal than it was in Kéthani, for example, but it remained just as interesting and thought-provoking. The Serene Invasion isn't an action-packed space drama, but as I'm discovering seems to be Brown's signature, explores humanity's reactions to a change in society, clad in an SFnal jacket. It's a quiet, but powerful, narrative and one that will have you ponder its questions beyond the book.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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The Serene Invasion by Eric Brown (Paperback - 9 May 2013)
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