Last year, when I interviewed sci-fi writer Nancy Kress about her then new book Tomorrow’s Kin, she explained that this epic science fiction story was an expansion of 2014 novella, Yesterday’s Kin, one that had grown to the point where Tomorrow’s Kin was only the first book in a trilogy. With the second installment, If Tomorrow Comes (hardcover, Kindle), newly available, and the third, Terran Tomorrow, slated for November 13th, I once again find myself asking Nancy Kress about this sci-fi saga.
Photo Credit: Liza Trombi
For those unfamiliar with this series, what is If Tomorrow Comes about, and how does it connect both narratively and chronologically to the first book, Tomorrow’s Kin? Aside from being the second book in the trilogy, of course.
If Tomorrow Comes begins shortly after the end of Tomorrow’s Kin. The U.S. government has finally succeeded in building a starship according to alien plans and, as the novel opens, it is on its way to World, where the entire rest of the novel takes place. Aboard are Marianne Jenner, the geneticist from the first book, and two new point-of-view characters, Dr. Salah Bourgiba and Army sniper Leo Brodie. I really enjoyed writing Leo, though it took a lot of research for me to write a 24-year-old male ex-Ranger who is an Army lifer. After I researched and wrote, and researched more and wrote more, I did it all again. Then I hired an actual ex-Ranger to read the manuscript, to make sure I didn’t make a fool of myself. He was very helpful.
When the Terrans get to World, nothing is as they expected. They undergo shock after shock, and as a planetary crisis develops, various factions form, including splits among the Terrans themselves on what to do and how to do it. It was great fun to create the culture of World, which is much different from ours.
Tomorrow’s Kin and If Tomorrow Comes have been called hard sci-fi. But do you think there’s another genre, or combination of them, that describes these books better?
I think the first book, Tomorrow’s Kin, qualifies as hard sci-fi because it uses science, especially in Part 1, in a rigorous way. The virology, genetic engineering, and — in the rest of the novel, ecology — was as accurate as I could make it. However, the last half of the book wanders into more hand-waving to get alien spaceships built, and there is not rigorous science in If Tomorrow Comes. I would call the entire series space opera rather than hard sci-fi.
In the previous interview we did for Tomorrow’s Kin [which you can read here], you explained that this trilogy started as the novella Yesterday’s Kin, but was extended into a trilogy, with Yesterday’s Kin now making up the first quarter of Tomorrow’s Kin. Given that, what inspired the events of If Tomorrow Comes, and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
If Tomorrow Comes was “inspired” by the same thing that always prompts me to extend a novella into a novel and then, sometimes, into more novels: the story did not seem done. At the end of the first book, the Worlders had departed for their own planet, taking nine Terrans with them, including Marianne’s son Noah. The U.S. government has acquired a working starship. Well, what do you do with a starship? You go to the stars. Specifically, you go where at least a few humans — Star Trek slogans notwithstanding — have gone before: to World. They were going to have a spore cloud attack, too. Did they? What happened? I wanted to know, so I wrote If Tomorrow Comes. And then, I wrote the third book, Terran Tomorrow, because the story still wasn’t finished.
Are there any writers or stories that had a big influence on If Tomorrow Comes but not on Tomorrow’s Kin or Yesterday’s Kin?
No, I don’t think so. However, both books were heavily influenced by non-fiction books about epidemics, especially David Quammen’s Spillover and C.J. Peters’ classic Virus Hunter. As I get older, I read a lot more non-fiction and less fiction, though that has its drawbacks. I’m not as familiar as I’d like to be with the work of a lot of younger upcoming authors.
How about movies, TV shows, or other non-literary influences, any of them have an impact on If Tomorrow Comes?
I believe that everything one writes is influenced by the whole lifetime of reading and watching. Ideas, approaches, characters, plot lines — they all get dropped into the well of unconscious, where they mutate and cross-breed and engender offspring so changed that you can’t pin down specific influences. But that doesn’t mean the influences weren’t important.
Now, the third book in this trilogy, Terran Tomorrow, will be released on November 13th. What can you tell us about it?
In Terran Tomorrow, the Terrans — those still alive, anyway — plus a contingent of Worlders, go back to Earth. There is thus an arc to the trilogy: Earth to World, World to Earth. Journey and return. However, due to time dilation, decades have passed. Marianne’s grandchildren, who were small boys in If Tomorrow Comes, are now grown men in responsible positions on an Earth ecologically altered almost out of recognition. In this third book, I return to heavy-duty science, genetic engineering.
Obviously, if someone is interested in this series, they should buy Tomorrow’s Kin and If Tomorrow Comes now, and maybe a couple more times just to be safe. But is there any reason they shouldn’t wait until Terran Tomorrow comes out before reading all three?
I understand the impulse to wait until the entire saga is available so that they can be read it all at once. But I think that each of the first two books functions as a stand-alone novel, so there really isn’t any reason to wait. The third book is written and in production at Tor; the wait will not be long enough to forget the first two. At least, I hope they’re not that forgettable.
Is the plan for this story to still end with Terran Tomorrow, or are you thinking there might be some short stories in this saga, or maybe a second trilogy of books like how K.B. Wagers is following her Indranan War trilogy with The Farian War trilogy?
I have no plans for more than three. Even though there are characters’ children in the last book, who could have subsequent lives of their own…
During the previous interview we did, you also said there hadn’t yet been any interest in turning this series into a movie or TV show. Is that still the case?
Still no interest. I wish there were.
Finally, if someone really enjoys Tomorrow’s Kin and If Tomorrow Comes, what first contact sci-fi novel would you suggest they read while waiting for Terran Tomorrow to come out?
If you mean my books, the Probability series — Probability Moon, Probability Sun, and Probability Space — is about alien/Terran interactions, and those are genuine aliens, not just humans transplanted from Earth millennia ago as in the Tomorrow series.
If you mean other authors’ first-contact novels, though, two of my all-time favorites are the late Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand Of Darkness and, more recently, Ted Chiang’s wonderful novella “Story Of Your Life” [from his collection Stories Of Your Life]. If you have not read that, if you only saw the movie version, Arrival, read the story. It’s better.