Interesting and thoughtful, but fundamentally flawed, Yesterday's Kin is a book that ultimately fell flat for me. There's no question that Nancy Kress is a woman of ideas, it's just that I don't necessarily agree with (or appreciate) all of them.
My biggest quibble with the tale is how overwhelmingly pessimistic it is. Really, it offers a very dim view of humanity throughout, continually harps on our fears and prejudices, and then wraps it all up with an extraordinarily heavy-handed reminder of how violent and spiteful we can be. While many other authors have used their science fiction to explore our darker side, there's usually a redeeming quality there, a glimmer of hope that at least some of might succeed despite ourselves. Still others throw out that pessimism at the end, as an ultimate sort of twist, but there's no such twist here, just the acknowledgement of the inevitable conclusion.
My secondary quibble - and this one, I admit, may be deliberate - is that there's no sense of wonder or awe to the story. We start it in medias res, with the aliens already here, and their ship already in orbit, denying us that all-important glimpse of first contact. The aliens themselves are very human (that is, in fact, the point of the novel), so there's little sense of wonder there, and we don't really get to see much of their technology (beyond the energy shield, which fields so much of the pessimism). Like I said, I understand that much of that is likely deliberate, in that it help feed the suspicions the characters have as to the aliens' true motivations, but I would have taken a different approach.
My final quibble is that, for a story that's so much about family and relationships, I didn't care for a single character. Seriously, I found them all odd, cold, distant, and unlikable. There wasn't much personality to any of them, and there's so little context to their relationships outside the alien crisis, I found it impossible to connect to them or really care about their dilemmas.
Having said all that, the idea of the aliens is interesting, and there are some nice cultural flourishes towards the end. The story does move at a decent pace, and there is some real tension to several aspects of the story. None of that is enough, however, to redeem the flaws or to endear me at all to Yesterday's Kin. It's not altogether a bad novel, but there's really little to distinguish it.
Paperback, 192 pages (
Expected publication: September 9th 2014 by Tachyon Publications