book reviews by Althea

Yesterday’s Kin – Nancy Kress ***

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It’s odd when a novel of the future feels a little old-fashioned… there’s nothing at all wrong with that, but to me, this feels like it harks back to a lot of books I’ve read that were published in the 70s and 80s. I just haven’t encountered many not-too-long, idea-based hard sci-fi novels lately. Maybe I just haven’t been picking them up?

Actually this is more like epidemic-thriller meets hard sci-fi. Aliens arrive, and make first contact. Or – they sort of make first contact. They’re quite reclusive, inside their shielded ship. They say, through their mechanical translators, that they are here on a mission of peace: they wish to work with humanity to discover a cure for a coming event that threatens to wipe out humanity: Earth will soon be passing through a ‘spore cloud’ full of a virus which, they say, will kill both humans and aliens, unless a solution is found.

To this end, the aliens demand that a number of UN leaders and scientific experts be brought to them. One of these is the middle-aged geneticist Marianne Jenner. The aliens seem to think her recent paper in ‘Nature’ documenting a previously-unknown mitochondrial haplogroup is relevant to the current crisis – but she’s not sure why.

Conveniently, for purposes of the plot, each member of Marianne’s family ends up embodying one of the different attitudes humanity takes toward the aliens: Marianne herself is open-minded and curious. Her daughter, a top Border Security officer, has one set of concerns. Her older son, an environmental expert on invasive plant species, sees the aliens as invaders. And her younger son, who’s always been a social misfit, seeking to ‘belong’ through drugs, sees other possibilities in the aliens altogether.

The plot presents some interesting scientific ideas, and throws in a few unexpected twists. It’s a good, solid sci-fi novel.

Many thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advance copy. As always, my opinions are my own.


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