In 2015, science fiction writer Nancy Kress released Yesterday’s Kin, a sci-fi novella that won a Nebula Award and was included in 2015’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection. But despite these accolades, Kress wasn’t satisfied with the finished novella, and decided to expand the story so much it become a trilogy of novels. With the third and final book in Terran Tomorrow (hardcover, Kindle) now available, I conducted the following interview to find out what this last chapter is about, what ispired it, and whether it is the end or if she’s planning to expand this story even further.
Photo Credit: Liza Trombi
For someone unfamiliar with this series, what is this trilogy about, what is Terran Tomorrow about, and aside from being the third and final book, how else does it connect, narratively and chronologically, to the first two books, Tomorrow’s Kin and If Tomorrow Comes?
The Yesterday’s Kin trilogy concerns aliens who show up on Earth to warn us about a spore cloud drifting through space toward Earth. The first shock is that these are not aliens at all, but rather humans taken from Earth 140,000 years ago. Since then, theirs and our evolutionary paths have diverged a little — 140,000 years is not long enough for much diversion — but our two cultural paths, shaped by environment and genes, have been radically different. In the first book, Tomorrow’s Kin [which you can read more about here], Terrans and Worlders are both allies, trying to find a vaccine against the spore cloud, and antagonists, since many groups don’t trust the aliens’ motives. Those groups are both right and wrong, with major international consequences.
In the second book, If Tomorrow Comes [which you can read more about here], a small group of humans travel to the alien planet, World. They encounter many unexpected situations, starting with a time dilation of fourteen years. There are both medical and military crises to contend with, and the protagonists face difficult professional and personal choices.
The third book, Terran Tomorrow, starts with a group of Terrans and Worlders returning to Earth. They have been gone only a few months, but twenty-eight years have passed on Earth. Biological warfare has left Earth largely depopulated and radically changed. The survivors are still at war, both with the microbe-contaminated environment and with a strong terrorist group called New America. Much of the book takes place in a shielded military base in California that houses 700 survivors and, now, the starfarers from World.
Some characters continue through all three books, notably geneticist Marianne Jennings. Some appear in books one and two, including Marianne’s son Noah. Some are in books one and three, including Marianne’s grandchildren Jason and Colin, who by Terran Tomorrow are leaders of two competing survivor colonies. Both allies and rivals, bound by affection and divided by philosophies, U.S. Army Colonel Jason Jennings and eco-pacifist Colin Jennings each seek to implement what they consider the best means to rebuild a shattered United States.
When in the process of writing this series did you come up with the plot forTerran Tomorrow as well as the ending for the book and thus the trilogy?
After I finished the first book, I planned the second and third because I knew the story wasn’t finished. I don’t plan all the scenes of a book ahead of time, but I did know that the second book would take my characters to World, and the third back to Earth. I knew roughly what they would find on each planet, and how the trilogy would end. I actually think — although this is of course just my opinion — that the second and third books are stronger than the first, which is not always the case for trilogies, including others of mine.
And did Terran Tomorrow end up playing out like you expected?
Yes, it did. My books usually end with a mixture of positive and negative outcomes, and this series does so. That’s how real life goes.
In the previous interview we did about If Tomorrow Comes [which you can read here], you said that you thought it and Tomorrow’s Kin were sci-fi space opera stories. Is that true of Terran Tomorrow as well?
All three books are a combination of space opera — meaning they feature wars and negotiations and adventures on more than one planet — and hard SF. The medical and biological science in these books is as accurate an extrapolation of real biological sciences as I could make them.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Terran Tomorrow but not on Tomorrow’s Kin and If Tomorrow Comes?
I don’t think so. Everything a writer reads, sees, and hears has some influence on their unconscious, where — with luck — it mutates into something “rich and strange.” Even without the five fathoms. I will say, however, that for all forty years I’ve been writing, Ursula Le Guin has been my lodestar.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big impact on Terran Tomorrow?
Same answer as above. Other people may be good at teasing out specific influences on my, or anybody’s, work, but I am not.
Now, as you know, some writers like to expand their trilogies with sequels or side story novellas and short stories. Is that something you’re planning to do with this story, or is this it, is it all over?
I’m not planning anything now, for the most mundane of reasons: I’m working on something else and am totally absorbed by it. No future fiction is on my mind just now. One piece of work at a time.
This trilogy originally began as the novella Yesterday’s Kin, which you expanded upon. But is there any reason why someone who’s read Tomorrow’s Kin, If Tomorrow Comes, and Terran Tomorrow should consider reading Yesterday’s Kin? Aside from curiosity’s sake, of course.
The novella Yesterday’s Kin forms the first quarter of the novel Tomorrow’s Kin, which then takes the story forward from there. So if you have the novel, there is no reason to also read the novella.
Gotcha.So are you thinking there might be another novella of yours that needs to be expanded upon?
No novella-expansion plans at the moment, though periodically I am tempted to expand my 1993 Hugo-nominated ballet novella Dancing On Air, just because I love ballet.
With all three books now available, there are people who are going to read all in a row. Do you think this is a good idea?
I would love it if people read all three in a row. Then they don’t forget characters or plot as easily as if there were gaps between books. And what writer thinks any reader should take a break from his or her work?
During the previous interview we did about If Tomorrow Comes, 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?
Yes, as far as I know.
Finally, if someone’s read Tomorrow’s Kin, If Tomorrow Comes, and Terran Tomorrow, which of your other sci-fi novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
If this hypothetical reader likes space opera, then I would suggest my Probability series — Probability Moon, Probability Sun, and Probability Space — which won a John W. Campbell Memorial Award. If the reader is more interested in the biological sciences and the effect they can have on society, then Beggars In Spain, about people genetically engineered to never need to sleep.