Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress

The best way to describe Nancy Kress's writing is that she writes emotionally engaging sci-fi, like extended versions of Twilight Zone episodes that would make really cool movies, except you know Hollywood would really mess them up.

On the eve that Geneticist Marianne Jenner is celebrating her recent discovery she is asked -- invited almost against her will -- to assist in a project being arranged by the aliens that have recently parked their vehicle just alongside the moon. Yes, the aliens have arrived, and set up a sort of floating embassy in New York harbor, and everyone is reading their own personal mania into their arrival. It's the end of the earth. They've come to save us from ourselves. They are proof of God, or no God, or they are our new gods. They say they are here to help us, to share their technology, to save us, but we've all seen that show, twice (hello V), we won't be fooled again. Or will we?

On the emotional side of things Dr. Jenner has three adult children, one a cop for homeland security, one a scientist, and one a drugged out loser strung out on Sugar who's never felt like he belonged anywhere. While they argue the point and value of the alien visitors it is impossible to avoid they are all intricately linked to the success or failure of the visitation. In the end lingered the big question: who is saving whom?

The compelling story is helped along by clear scientific explanations with sudden bursts of emotion and action. What it lacks in character development is easily forgiven; it's a novella to be consumed, not analyzed. At several points along the way -- and I read in one sitting, a rarity for me -- I paused not to consider the story but to try and imagine my reaction to the various situations. Would I participate in a mysterious program in an alien ship? If chosen, would I take trip across the universe with aliens whose societal structure feels almost hippie cult-ish? Would I really want to live on a post-alien Earth with people gearing up to fight each other after having their worldview turned upside down?

Nancy Kress is becoming my favorite author for summer reading. And just a couple weeks ago Yesterday's Kin won the 2015 Locus Award in the Novella category, beating out some serious competition. I think even readers who aren't big on sci-fi could get into this, if they gave it a try.

Yesterday's Kin
Nancy Kress
Tachyon Publications  2014

2 comments :

Bob R Milne said...

Generally, I like Kress' work, but this one fell flat for me. I found it overwhelmingly pessimistic, and without any sense of wonder or awe.

david elzey said...

i can see that, however i sometimes find wonder and awe overrated in speculative fictions.

as for being pessimistic, again i guess we can agree to disagree. i think that when you consider how politically divisive we are in this country, and the world, kress's view actually begins to look like reportage.