fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress	science fiction book reviewsYesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Yesterday’s Kin, by Hugo and Nebula award winning author Nancy Kress, is a first-contact story set in a not so distant dystopian future. We follow Marianne Jenner, a geneticist who is celebrating a recent career breakthrough — the discovery that all human beings are descended from a common female ancestor — when she is unexpectedly called to a meeting set up by the secretive aliens that have landed recently in New York Harbor. Not understanding why, of all people, the aliens have asked her to be part of the first visiting committee to speak with the aliens, she quickly discovers that there is a surprising link between the aliens and her recent discovery.

That link, however, is secondary to why the aliens have chosen to allow, for the very first time, people to visit their base. There is an incoming interstellar spore cloud that will infect and kill every human being on Earth, and they want to join forces with Earth’s best scientists to find a cure for it. Before I go into my problems with Yesterday’s Kin, I want to point out the wishy-washy reason that is given for why the aliens have decided to collaborate with Earth’s scientists instead of doing everything by themselves: While they might be incredibly advanced in some areas, such as physics, they are on par with humans when it comes to biology. It’s just too unlikely for a civilization that has mastered interstellar travel to not be equally advanced in biology and, as such, it makes for a very weak explanation.

The main problem with Yesterday’s Kin however is that the nature of the spore cloud doesn’t allow for much suspense to be built around it. The scientists quickly discover that the spore is incredibly complex and that creating a cure will be nearly impossible in the timeframe they have. This destroys any room that there might have been for the characters to have a meaningful impact on the plot, and it doesn’t make for a very compelling reason to keep reading.

There are hints in the beginning chapters that the book will explore the merits or misgivings of protectionism as a foreign policy, with two of Marianne’s children representing differing views on the topic, but that exploration never happens and in the end I was left wondering whether Nancy Kress was trying, in the beginning, to do something different with Yesterday’s Kin than what she ended up with.

Along with Marianne’s, there a secondary storyline featuring Noah, the youngest of Marianne’s children, who is addicted to a drug capable of changing a person’s personality for a while. This storyline is somewhat interesting —  for me to explain it I would have to spoil a central plot twist of Yesterday’s Kin  —  but it is unconnected to the main plot arc and could have been cut out without losing anything in terms of plot development.

It is hard to imagine how the climax could have been satisfyingly handled, and the one in Yesterday’s Kin ends up resembling, in essence, the one in H.G. WellsThe War of the Worlds. It feels bland and anticlimactic, but by the way the plot was set up, it could not have been otherwise.

Yesterday’s Kin feels like a book that was trying to do much more than it did. The initial hints of a political theme suggests this, but the book isn’t able to untangle itself from its problems and is ultimately unsuccessful in what it does.

Publication Date: August 18, 2014. Aliens have landed in New York. After several months of no explanations, they finally reveal the reason for their arrival. The news is not good. Geneticist Marianne Jenner is having a career breakthrough, yet her family is tearing itself apart. Her children Elizabeth and Ryan constantly bicker, agreeing only that an alien conspiracy is in play. Her youngest, Noah, is addicted to a drug that keeps temporarily changing his identity. The Jenner family could not be further apart. But between the four of them, the course of human history will be forever altered. Earth’s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent a disaster—and not everyone is willing to wait.


  • João Eira

    JOÃO EIRA, one of our guests, is a student at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, one of the oldest universities in the world, where he studies Physics and Economics. Having spent his formative years living in the lush vistas of Middle Earth and the barren nothingness in a galaxy far far away, he has grown to love filling his decreasing empty bookshelf space with fantasy and science fiction books. For him a book’s utmost priority should be the story it is trying to tell, though he can forgive some mistakes if its characters are purposeful and the worldbuilding imaginative. A book with no story can have no redeeming quality though. João probably spends more time fantasizing about books than doing productive things.

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