Book Review: Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress
By Jacob P. Torres
Find my spoiler-free review of Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress, Book One of the Yesterday’s Kin Trilogy.
Cover Description: “Tomorrow’s Kin is the first volume in and all new hard science fiction trilogy by Nancy Kress based on the Nebula Award-winning Yesterday’s Kin.
Locus 2017 Recommended Reading List
The aliens have arrived… they’ve landed their Embassy ship on a platform in New York Harbor, and will only speak with the United Nations. They say that their world is so different from Earth, in terms of gravity and atmosphere, that they cannot leave their ship. The population of Earth has erupted in fear and speculation.
One day Dr. Marianne Jenner, an obscure scientist working with the human genome, receives an invitation that she cannot refuse. The Secret Service arrives at her college to escort her to New York, for she has been invited, along with the Secretary General of the UN and a few other ambassadors, to visit the alien Embassy.
The truth is about to be revealed. Earth’s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent a disaster—and not everyone is willing to wait.”
What is the book about?
Family. First Contact. Spores. So many things. We’re thrown into the story of Dr. Marianne Jenner and her family. She has three grown kids Noah, Ryan and Elizabeth. They’re living in a world where aliens have recently made contact with earth. The aliens are enigmatic and secretive and don’t engage much with humanity at large. They live in an embassy that’s off the coast on New York City (because of course it is, eyeroll). A recent discovery by Dr. Jenner about mitochondrial DNA gets the aliens to open the door not just to humanity’s leaders, but Jenner as well.
Shocking surprise! They’re actually descended from a group of humans that were taken from earth more than 70,000 years ago. Jenner’s discovery identified that are humans on earth who are also descended from the group that was “abducted (I guess?).” The aliens let earth know that they’re in danger from an intergalactic cloud of, honestly, they keep saying spores, but viruses. And hey, they’re in danger too, so can humans maybe help some to find a cure or something?
What Did I Like About the Book?
For all of the elements in this book that are about science fiction it’s also grounded in the very relatable struggle of a single mom with three children that she’s failed and have failed her and are more estranged than any of them would like. Ryan is obsessed about invasive ecological species, Elizabeth is a anti-immigration bigot, and Noah is a drug addict. So, there’s this family drama that runs throughout the whole book which becomes more about survival than anything else. This isn’t a new thing, it’s a common theme with survival books to also this family relationship struggle going on too, but it was well executed.
Jenner’s journey in this book feels very much like the old Greek tragedies, she’s passionately going after this dream/goal/idea and bad shit just keeps happening as a result. She comes off as a very tragic heroine but in a way that’s more believable than contrived.
I mentioned that Ryan is obsessed with invasive species, and that becomes relevant about halfway through when the intergalactic spore cloud thing has passed, but they’re discovering some unexpected fallout from the event. It was an environmental idea I don’t really think I’ve seen explored in books before or explored well before. And it was a fun nuanced part of the remainder of the book.
I also thought that Kress had an excellently developed socio-political background setting, how the populace was reacting to the aliens and the spore cloud, etc. that felt like Kress had a great understanding of how people might actually react to these kinds of events. It felt like reactions you’d see from people today.
Who was my Favorite Character?
Collin? Collin is Marianne’s grandson (via Ryan) and he’s got some developmental differences that are characterized with a lot of heart. He also has the kind of empathy that you only see with some very young children that was a nice light in the otherwise rather dark second half of the book. I can’t really talk much more about the character without spoiling stuff, so I’ll end it there.
What Did I Not Like?
So, here’s the thing, the characters are well drawn, they had all the things you look for in characters, but I just didn’t like almost all of them. Marianne Jenner is the main protagonist and she’s fine not good not bad just milk toast. And I just could not stand any of her children, they were the god damn worst. That this woman, who seems progressive and sane and not a raging dick produced these three ridiculous black holes stretches belief. And the other people that surrounded her were just so unlikable that even though I liked the actual plot this was more of a chore to read than anything else.
This is a science nitpick in the science fiction part. So, this spore cloud. Fuck that thing. It’s an interesting plot device, intergalactic death cloud. Which fine. Okay. But then it visits earth every 70,000 years, the last time during a hypothetical human population bottleneck event. This appears to be based off of the Toba catastrophe theory of a volcano that caused a human population die off about that time. Which can’t be a thing (in the novel) because if this thing intersects earth orbit every 70,000 years there’d have been another die off 140,000 years ago and 210,000 years ago, which there weren’t. BUT ALSO, we’re told that this thing has already hit some other star systems and was threatening yet another, which is why the aliens give a damn in the first place. So, it’s not orbiting our sun, which I guess means it’s orbiting the galaxy center at a similar or more elliptical orbit than the path our start takes, so like a minimum diameter of 50,000 light years? Which okay, that’s a thing, our solar system does too. But if that’s the case it would have to be travelling at 0.7C which, guys, it’s real fast. So, that’s problematic. And none of that covers how massive this thing must be to still exist after passing through the planetary gravity wells of several systems and apparently earth already at least once? Though velocity can trump gravity, so if it really is moving 0.7 C then the cloud would maybe be okay while causing way worse problems? I shouldn’t get hung up on this kind of stuff, but I did.
This was a story in three parts and they were very disparate parts each one felt a little light. I could have done without the entire middle section and have had the first and third parts expanded more. Plot wise the middle part was interesting but felt the least relevant and I’d really have enjoyed having more detail in the other sections.
3.0 out of 5 cups of tea. It had an enjoyable plot but I got distracted by some questionable Sci-Fi and some really unlikable characters. But the story covered some real intriguing looks at the environment and science fiction that I could enjoy seeing more of. Picking up the next one in this series might depend on me knowing if Marianne’s children will be present in any way…
|Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 5 cups of tea. It had an enjoyable plot but I got distracted by some questionable Sci-Fi and some really unlikable characters.|
|+ It had a fun plot, one redeemable enough that it got me past characters I hated.||– God, Marianne’s children were awful.|
|+ It had a great picture of how people would actually react to this kind of shit. Hint: It’s not band together and solve problems.||– The supporting cast of characters were well-written but so unlikable I just couldn’t even appreciate them at all. Possibly a personal problem.|
|+ Despite the setting, it really did feel like it was more a tragedy for the main character rather than anything else.||– Each of the three sections felt a little light. I could’ve done with more in each section.|