Yesterday’s Kin, by Hugo and Nebula award winning author Nancy Kress, is a first-contact story set in the not so distant future. We follow Marianne Jenner, a geneticist who is celebrating a recent career breakthrough, when she is called to a meeting set up by the secretive aliens that have recently landed in New York. As she arrives, she quickly discovers the surprising link between her recent work and the aliens, as well as the reason behind their sudden appearance on Earth. Alternating chapters with Marianne is her son Noah, addicted to a drug that can temporarily change his identity.
There is a reason why the aliens have chosen to make the journey towards Earth and make themselves known, which informs the conflict that serves as foundation for the plot of the novel. The trouble with it is that by itself it makes for a very poor foundation to build a novel around since there is literally nothing any of the characters can do about solving it. It is unsatisfying, and besides the first chapters with Marianne, none of the characters’ actions have any effect on the development and possible resolution of the conflict. The Noah chapters are the most egregious in this regard, and you could cut them all out and not lose any serious plot development.
The climax is, by way the plot has been set up, unsatisfying , and the characters have no serious input towards making it happen. It is not unlike the climax of The War of the Worlds – the movie version, I have never read the book, – in essence, and it feels cheap and bland.
It’s disappointing since the excerpts that can be found online promised an interesting first-contact story, but the setup of the story doesn’t help itself for an interesting plot and its inevitable resolution feels cheap and uninteresting, and ultimately, unsuccessful.