Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress (book review).

How can you mix a dysfunctional family story with an alien first contact plot? With ‘Yesterday’s Kin’, Nancy Kress does this. The aliens, called the Denebs, although not from that star system but was coined because that was the direction they came from, have already landed but haven’t shown their faces yet but have been friendly with the UN in New York.


However, when Professor Marianne Jenner discovers there was a second Eve source for the origin of mankind, she and other UN representatives are invited on-board the Denebs embassy in the Hudson River where it is revealed that the aliens were from this off-shoot and transported to another planet many centuries ago. There is an interplanetary spore heading towards Earth which has devastated two Deneb colony planets and they don’t want the same to happen here. There is also an ulterior plan to pick out any humans with the L7 gene and adjust them to life on their home planet and widen their own gene pool.

Marianne’s family plug into the story from time to time, although ultimately it is her step-son, Noah, who gets the most time in the end. The human interest aspect looks like it was put in to ground Marianne as a mother. Other things like human reaction to their own fate is constantly put in the background and only used as the occasional reactionary piece. A lot of the focus is with the experiments to find out why mice were susceptible to the spore far more than humans, until some human volunteers were needed to find out. Anything beyond that is spoiler so you’ll have to read for yourself.

Despite this books slender size, Nancy Kress fits a lot of material into these pages. Occasionally, I felt she was putting ingredients in to shake things up and see where it took her. The disclosure that Noah was adopted wasn’t something that wasn’t addressed earlier or it didn’t sink in sufficiently to register the kind of luck he had. The alien Denebs were spectacularly different but close to see how we might have changed on a lower gravity dim-lit world. Kress neatly explains how they were more advanced simply because they were less aggressive and had fewer wars.

There’s a lot to like about this story. It would have been interesting to have seen Kress develop the theme given here more but if you want an introduction to the kind of stories she writes then this book will want you to look for more.

GF Willmetts

September 2014

(pub: Tachyon Publications. 189 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61696-175-6. Ebook: Price: $ 9.99 (US))

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