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.
on 20 February 2014
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.
on 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.