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.