The novel “Tomorrow’s Kin” by Nancy Kress was published for the first time in 2017. It’s the first book in the Yesterday’s Kin trilogy.
Dr. Marianne Jenner is celebrating the publication of a scientific article about a rare mutation in human mitochondrial DNA when FBI agents burst in to ask her politely but also really firmly to come with them to New York. The only explanation she gets is that her presence was requested by the aliens who arrived some time earlier on Earth.
Involved in the first face-to-face encounter with the aliens, Marianne Jenner hears from them that a cosmic cloud containing a lethal virus is heading towards the Earth. The virus has already exterminated two alien colonies that crossed the cloud so the Denebs, as the aliens have been called because they come from the direction of the star with that name, and the Earthlings have to work together to create a vaccine.
In 2014, Nancy Kress published the novella “Yesterday’s Kin”, winner of the Nebula Award, which tells the story of a first contact that’s a bit particular due to the nature of the aliens and the circumstances in which their delegation arrives on Earth. Earth’s scientists are invited to work with them to find a way to defeat the virus that threatens Denebs and Earthlings in a story that ends when the cosmic cloud that contains it reaches the Earth.
After the success of “Yesterday’s Kin”, Nancy Kress turned that novella into the first part – about 40% – of the novel “Tomorrow’s Kin” whose subsequent parts explore the consequences of those events. This novel in turn became the first of a trilogy that according to the publisher’s schedul will be completed in the USA by the end of 2018.
The absolute protagonist of “Tomorrow’s Kin” is Marianne Jenner, a geneticist who works for a university that’s not exactly prestigious, so much so that the publication of an article in a scientific journal is a reason for celebration. For this reason, she and her colleagues are definitely surprised when she’s invited to the first face to face meeting with the aliens arrived on Earth a few months before.
Marianne Jenner is after all a normal person who is thrown from one moment to another into an absolutely extraordinary situation. The discovery of a rare mutation in human mitochondrial DNA isn’t exactly revolutionary yet it’s the reason why she gets involved in the encounter with the aliens, for which it has an unexpected importance.
The Denebs seem friendly and have come to Earth to warn its inhabitants of a serious danger and yet their presence on the planet raises very diverse reactions, often irrational. Some doubts about their motivations are due to fact that they seem quite aloof and this leaves a number of ambiguities. However, in many cases tribalism and xenophobia emerge in many people who are incapable of rational behavior, so opposition to aliens tends to be unfounded.
The portrait of humanity that comes out of “Tomorrow’s Kin” is overall negative and seeing the real behavior of many human beings in global events I don’t think that Nancy Kress exaggerated. In particular, we can see the recent trends in global Internet connections to amplify humans’ dark sides.
In the course of the novel there always seems to be some communication problem among humans, whether they’re close relatives or distant cousins. The result are situations in which there are people who don’t say important things to other people for reasons that are sometimes futile and in some cases don’t even seem able to communicate and then they scream to cover their problems.
Marianne Jenner’s family, in which encounters with her children and between her children always end up in arguments, represents in some ways the big dysfunctional human family. They represent various positions on various important themes but when they meet they only yell at their relatives without actually communicating with them.
“Tomorrow’s Kin” is considered a hard science fiction novel and indeed there are some important scientific concepts in the plot. However, Nancy Kress never goes too deep into technical details and explains the important ones using the narrative trick of having them explained to people who are not experts in the field such as the UN Secretary General and some Ambassadors so no scientific knowledge is needed to understand them.
In the end, “Tomorrow’s Kin” is a novel that’s mainly character-oriented but for a work of this kind character development is curiously limited. The story follows Marianne Jenner, who as a result is the only character always present and by far the one with the best development. All the others come and go and are often used to show the various positions among the Earthlings and human contradictions, such as in Jonah Stubbins.
The story goes through a number of years so there are various leaps ahead in time. Nancy Kress focuses on significant events so the pace tends to be fast with various twists despite the importance of scientific research with dialogues between scientists and the many interactions in Marianne Jenner’s family.
This focus on family in “Tomorrow’s Kin” is at the same time the novel’s merit and flaw because it offers a global portrait of humanity but in doing it is sometimes heavy and Nancy Kress uses some clichés. However, my overall judgment is positive. Some elements remain open to be developed in the sequels but the main plot has a conclusion so you can read it and then decide if you want to go ahead with the trilogy.