Tor Books | 2017 (11 July) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
Aliens have arrived in New York. Their spaceship, known as the Embassy, floats on a platform in the city’s harbour but nothing has been seen yet of its inhabitants, although communication has been made. The aliens, dubbed the ‘Debnebs’ out of a mistaken belief that they had arrived from the Debneb star, are, thankfully, friendly but are unable to show themselves due to the danger physical contact could bring to themselves and to humanity. But after two months, the Debnebs reveal that they are ready to meet their human hosts. Dr Marianne Jenner, an unremarkable scientist working on the human genome, is picked as someone they particularly wish to make contact with. And so Marilyn and a few other scientists are brought to the Embassy and taken inside its strange walls.
The Debnebs warn of a threat that is travelling to Earth, due to arrive in only ten months. All life could be extinguished. The only chance is for human scientists to work with the Debnebs to come up with a solution. Time is short, the outcome unlikely, but there is little choice for Marianne and the others. But as the doors seal behind them and work commences, the rest of humanity is affected by the knowledge of both the aliens in New York and the threat that they warn against. People are affected in different ways but nobody is immune, including Marianne’s three grown children who each react to the challenges facing mankind in their own way.
Tomorrow’s Kin has a deceptively calm beginning. All seems normal. Marianne is receiving acclaim for some of her breakthroughs in tracing the human genome into its distant past while her two sons and daughter are each living their own separate lives. But everything is thrown into uncertainty by the revelations that follow thick and fast throughout this thoroughly absorbing and captivating novel. First contact stories are a favourite of mine and almost without fail they suck me in and Tomorrow’s Kin did this very quickly indeed, largely, I think, because of the sophisticated and seemingly simple way in which we’re guided into the Embassy and into knowledge.
There are plenty of big themes here, notably the shaping of the family. Several years are covered and more than one generation plays a role. Despite all that is going on, we’re still given time to immerse ourselves in Marianne’s family life with all of its complications, both for better and worse. When the grandchildren play their role later on, I was particularly hooked. I love what these children bring to this novel. But apart from family, the novel is equally concerned with our relationship to our own planet, to Earth. This is a novel with environmental warnings but they are made very well indeed. This isn’t a book that bludgeons the reader with message and policy. It achieves its aim with wit and a gentle touch. We are shown the effects that an alien species can have on another, or on a world, in so many ways. There is a sensitivity in the way that some people react to their world that strongly affected me.
Tomorrow’s Kin is the first in a trilogy and this is such good news. The novel ends at a good point – there is some conclusion but it also opens another door to any number of possible futures. Nancy Kress’s writing is wonderful – this is the first novel by her that I’ve read – and I loved its style, pace and humour. Tomorrow’s Kin tells a great story very well indeed and I can’t wait to see where we’re taken next.