Tachyon Publications, 2014.
Well, this is a happy little book.
Award-winning futurist Nancy Kress explores human nature in this taut novella, where first contact with an alien race is marred by the inevitable extinction of humanity due to an interstellar virus cloud that the Earth will soon pass through.
The story focuses on a single family and how they deal with the Earth’s last ten months. Marianne Jenner is a biologist who discovered a previously unknown strand of human DNA, dating to the earliest life on Earth. Her daughter Elizabeth is a member of the increasingly isolationist Border Patrol, her first son Ryan is an environmental activist. Her youngest son Noah, the other POV character in Yesterday’s Kin, is a drug-addicted loser struggling to find his place in the world.
At a celebration for the publication of Marianne’s research, she is summoned by the Feds to meet with the alien visitors, who live in a shielded compound in New York Harbor. She, along with the leaders of the world’s superpowers, discover the secret of the aliens — they are descended from early humans and possess that same DNA strand she discovered. The Earth ambassadors also learn of the apocalyptic virus that is approaching Earth. Marianne is enlisted by the aliens to help find a cure for the virus, and to track down humans who might possess that unusual DNA.
From there the novel progresses at a feverish pace as the scientists scramble to find a cure for the virus and society starts to break down outside the protected alien compound. Elizabeth resents her role providing security for the visitors, while Ryan views them as an invasive species that will infect Earth and drive out native lifeforms. Meanwhile Noah discovers he carries the alien DNA. As “family”, he is admitted into the alien’s inner sanctuary with hopes of leaving his directionless Earth life for the promise of the alien’s planet, known as World.
Marianne continues her work, constantly reevaluating the choices she made in her life; how she raised her children, why she stayed with her alcoholic ex-husband and if her work will ultimately make any difference in the face of certain death.
I don’t want to give much more away— and at less than 200 pages, it is an easy evening’s read to find out what happens.
But the book is less about first contact, apocalypse and futuristic science than it is about human nature. How do we as humans respond to these paradigm shifts?
Unfortunately Kress’s answers, while beautifully written, aren’t particularly optimistic. Marianne takes an idealistic approach, but even she, the brightest light in the cast, doesn’t seem particularly optimistic about our future, or the future of our alien brethren.
So naturally a grouchy misanthrope like myself loved it.