Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Kress’

Yesterday's Kin, by Nancy Kress front cover(Yesterday’s Kin, by Nancy Kress. Tachyon, 2014, $14.95, 189 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Despite its nearly 200 pages, this is a novella rather than a novel. The story runs to only 35,000 to 40,000 words, but the publisher used a space-inefficient format to bump up the page count: a space-hog font (Georgia), a large point size with average leading (looks like 12/14.5) , and fairly generous margins; this works out to nine words per line; with approximately 24 or 25 full lines per page (out of 31, including dialogue and partial lines at the end of paragraphs), and that equals roughly 225 words per page (versus the 325 to 350 which are about average for a 5.5″x8.5″ page). Then consider that the book starts on page 11, that there are four blank pages following chapters that end on odd-numbered pages, and that the book appears to be printed on high-bulk paper (which increases width), and voila, a sub-40,000-word novella appears very much like a short novel of 60,000 words.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with this–such manipulation is quite common in the publishing industry–but it’s something to be aware of the next time you buy a book. If the font is blocky, it’s size large, the leading (spacing between lines) wide, and the margins ample, you likely won’t get as much story as you think you’re paying for.

But enough about the book’s layout–on to the tale itself.

As the book’s back cover puts it, “Aliens have landed in New York City. After several tense months, they finally reveal the reason for their arrival. The news is not good.” To be slightly more precise, they need the help of Earth to combat a problem that threatens both their extinction and that of the humans on Earth.

The tense story revolves around the experiences of geneticist Marianne Jenner, one of the scientists recruited to work to stop the potential extinction, and her three grown children, Noah (a deeply troubled drug addict), Elizabeth (an authoritarian Border Patrol agent), and Ryan (an environmental scientist). The tension in Yesterday’s Kin is a result  of the book’s “timelock” (a standard fictional device that gives protagonists a limited time to solve a problem), which provides a sense of urgency throughout the story. In addition to the timelock, Yesterday’s Kin features other sci-fi background staples, such as panspermia and faster than light flight, both necessary to the story.

It’s told in medium third person, with Marianne and Noah as the alternating point of view characters. This seems odd, but the reason for making Noah, a clearly secondary character, a p.o.v. character is revealed toward the end of the novella. Both characters are well described and their actions and reactions are believable, though as one might expect in a novella it’s not all that easy to care about them. This is especially so with Noah, who’s not as well developed as Marianne, and is simply not likable.

The positive aspects of Yesterday’s Kin are that the plot is, overall, plausible and gripping, the background in a future U.S.A. is all too believable, the dialogue seems realistic, and the characters are believable. The negative aspects are that one of the p.o.v. characters, Noah, is neither sympathetic nor interesting, and that it’s difficult to buy that aliens capable of faster than light interstellar flight, with a civilization tens of thousands of years old, are no more advanced in the biological sciences than 21st-century humans. Kress, however, quickly glosses over that problem, and once you get past it, if you even notice it, everything else falls into place.

Recommended, though it’s debatable whether a novella is worth $14.95.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on the sequel.

Free Radicals front cover



Silverberg(The Book of Silverberg: Stories in Honor of Robert Silverberg, Gardner Dozois and William Schafer, eds. Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2014, 291 pp.,  hardcover, $35)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Regardless of whether you’re a Silverberg fan, it’s hard not to love this book’s concept: a collection of short stories written by well known science fiction authors using as their starting point the novels and short stories of Robert Silverberg, one of the deans of the sci-fi field. This collection of nine lengthy stories–the shortest is 24 pages– includes tales by Kage Baker, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick, Connie Willis, Elizabeth Bear, and Nancy Kress; it also features a tribute by Greg Bear, and an introduction by the under-appreciated Barry Malzberg. As you’d expect, given these authors, all of the stories are well written.

And as you’d expect, and is almost inevitable in short story collections, the stories vary in quality. The three standouts are Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Voyeuristic Tendencies” (based on Silverberg’s Dying Inside), Nancy Kress’s “Eaters” (based on Silverberg’s “Sundance”), and the collection’s concluding tale, “Ambassador to the Dinosaurs,” by Tobias S. Buckell (based on Silverberg’s “Our Lady of the Sauropods”).

Rusch’s “Voyeuristic Tendencies” is a taut psychological tale of a telepath who has been putting her talent to questionable uses; Kress’s “Eaters” is another tense psychological tale–of colonization, the legacy of colonialism, and barely sentient aliens; and Buckell’s “Ambassador to the Dinosaurs” is a clever, very funny story about resurrected (“Jurassic Park” style) dinosaurs and Neanderthals in orbit.

The only real negative regarding this book is its high price; the publisher is almost certainly aiming at the library market.

If you’re a Silverberg fan, you’ll want The Book of Silverberg. Even if you aren’t, the stories are enjoyable enough that the book is worth having.

Recommended–once the book comes out as a presumably much cheaper paperback.

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Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia.

Free Radicals front cover


51mYjG9xB1L._AA160_(Solaris Rising 2: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ian Whates; Solaris, 2013, $7.99)

Reviewed by Zeke Teflon

First, a relatively minor matter: It’s unfortunate, but if you read many science fiction short story collections, you’ll often find the same stories reprinted in anthologies for the same year issued by different publishers. That holds here. While the cover doesn’t mention any particular year, the copyright page lists all of the stories as copyright 2013. So, I was a bit disappointed when I discovered that I’d already read two of the first three stories in other anthologies. (If you can remember short story titles, your memory is better than mine.)

Having said that, the stories tend toward hard sci-fi and social sci-fi; there’s a welcome absence of military sci-fi and impressionistic, word-salad tales in this collection.

The stories, overall, are as well written as you’d expect in an anthology featuring work by Nancy Kress, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Norman Spinrad. I only stopped reading a single story part way through while muttering, “Jesus Christ, dude. Enough with the passive voice already!”

The stories I thought the best were Nancy Kress’s “More,” Robert Reed’s “Bonds,” and Nick Harkaway‘s “The Time Gun.”

Kress’s chilling tale follows Caitlin, a terrorist just released from prison, set against a backdrop of class stratification, grinding repression, and violent resistance to it. Kress’s portrayal of Caitlin rings true–she’s reminiscent of members of marxist-leninist terrorist groups, such as Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (“Carlos”), virtually the entire Japanese United Red Army, and some members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Like most of them, Caitlin is from an upper middle class background (her dad being the inventor of the ultimate gated-community technology), and she sees people as objects to be used and discarded in pursuit of her “revolutionary” goals. This story is all too plausible.

Reed’s “Bonds” is an amusing send-up of New Age b.s. As Reed makes abundantly clear, New Age charlatans who babble about quantum physics are often flawed human beings, and have no more understanding of quantum physics than a dog does of calculus.

Harkaway’s “The Time Gun” is a clever, high energy time travel tale, which will leave you guessing right up till the end, which has a great twist.

There’s even a straight throwback to apolitical 1950s hard sci-fi, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s well written “Feast and Famine.”

This is one of the best sci-fi short story collections of recent years, especially at the price. Recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia.

Free Radicals front cover

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