Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress

I finished reading this book today for my Sci-Fi Fantasy Book Club meeting tomorrow evening (May 12th, 2015). It was a quick read, but despite interesting ideas and concepts, I was fairly disappointed in the book being so thin in plot and ideas, although it is an interesting exploration into what family is and what it means.

In the not too distant future, Professor Marianne Jenner is a theoretical evolutionary biologist at a college in upstate New York. She is widowed, and has three adult children; Ryan, who is highly placed in ecological circles (he is campaigning against purple loosestrife, a non-native plant), Elizabeth, who is an FBI Border Patrol section chief, and Noah, who is a misfit (in his own view, and in the view of his brother and sister), who works menial jobs, has no fixed address, and uses “sugarcane”, a street drug that turns one into a new person for several hours (not that he knows what person he will turn into; it’s pretty much a crapshoot). In the wider world, four months ago an alien spaceship parked itself in orbit around the moon, and contact was made via voice only by the aliens (dubbed the “Denebians” by the press). The aliens will only speak to the United Nations, and after two months politely asked to put an embassy in New York Harbor, and permission was granted. The only things the aliens will say about their reason for being on earth is that they have arrived “to make contact with humanity – a peace mission.” Their presence has created no little furor in New York, the United States, and the world, with some welcoming the aliens and others trying to send terrorists to bomb them (without success on either count).

As the book opens, Professor Jenner has just published a paper regarding mitochondrial DNA. She discovered a new haplogroup, dubbed L7, that exists in a very few people; apparently most of the haplogroup died out quite early, some 150,000 years ago. Without warning, she is summoned; the aliens have said that they want a face-to-face meeting (the first such meeting) with the Secretary General of the UN, the Ambassadors of the major countries in the UN, and Professor Jenner.

Without divulging much more of the plot, I can say that the rest of the book is both family oriented and apocalyptic. The story is told in third person, alternating between Marianne and her son Noah. But despite the end-of-the-world situation, I really didn’t care about the characters, or about what might happen to them; and the book, while it does corral up several loose ends, leaves other issues unanswered. I anticipate a good meeting to discuss this book, but I really was not impressed by the book.

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