I got this from the Strange Horizons fundraising drive; I wanted to read more Nancy Kress because her After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall was just so darned good. Also to keep up my efforts to keep reading female authors.
This is a really clever alien contact story, which like so many of the good ones tells the reader more about humanity than about any putative alien species.
Here, an alien ship arrives – apparently from the direction of Deneb, although not actually – and eventually tells the humans that the Earth is heading for a ‘spore cloud’ that will have disastrous consequences. The aliens are here both to warn the Earth and to seek answers to the problem of the spores, which will get to their planet some time later.
The story is told by Marianne, a geneticist who gets involved in the work with the aliens, and her estranged son Noah. They bring completely different perspectives to the story, of course, which are nicely complementary; they also allow Kress to explore family issues which are crucial to the story she’s telling.
The science is really a important part of the story: how scientists work, what risks they can and should take, what everyday life in the lab is like (boring). Neither more nor less important is the social aspect. How does a mother deal with children who are different from her – and how do they deal with her? How can the world deal with knowing that there are aliens out there, and that a disaster is approaching? And then there’s the politics too: this is set in a US that has become increasingly isolationist, a powerful border security force and many people wanting heavy tariffs on imports and restricted migration – and how does that play with the arrival of aliens?
At 189 pages, this is a short novel; it’s fast-paced, easy to read, and wonderfully engaging.