Interzone Review

The success of [this] novel should surprise no one, as it is a collaboration between one of the finest authors writing science fiction as well as one of the best of the small, independent presses. Published by Golden Gryphon, Nothing Human by Nancy Kress (Golden Gryphon Press, $26.95) foreshadows and defies its title, exploring nothing less than evolution and what it means to be human. Set within our own era, as well as a possible — some might say probable — near future, this is a tale of alien visitation whose intent is to save humanity, but whose rescue threatens our very identity.

In 1999 a small clinic opens in New York, offering in vitro fertilization on a sliding scale as part of a research project. The clinic operates briefly with a high rate of success, then abruptly closes its doors. The brilliant physician heading the project disappears. Fourteen years later 80 of the children created by the clinic simultaneously fall into a coma. Tests reveal that each possesses an anomalous, quiescent growth on their frontal lobes, located in the region of the glomeruli, which processes olfactory signals to other important centres in the brain. Additionally, each child displays an increase in cerebral neuron activity by as much as 20 percent, with identical neural firing patterns. But most alarming is the appearance of an extra and unknown set of genes attached to the sixth chromosome, whose presence in all 80 children, each a product of the same clinic, defies contemporary medical science, which claims it is impossible. After several weeks, the children awake from their comas and announce: "The pribir are coming."

The mysterious growth on their frontal lobes is now active. Tests continue to be run, but in all other respects the children appear normal. However, they are now in contact with someone from outside our solar system, who communicates with them through the smell of molecules released in the air, using perhaps a method of sophisticated pheromones. The children reassure that the pribir are "people from another star system who are [coming] to help us with our genes," to instruct us in "the right way." But the right way appears to preclude nuclear energy, and when the pribir finally arrive and destroy an orbiting nuclear power station, the government quickly steps in, quarantining the children at Andrews Air Force Base. This is done not only to study the children and learn of the aliens' true intentions, but to safeguard them from the suspicion and hostility the pribirs' arrival has generated.

The pribirs' exact intentions, however, remain mysterious. The children have no fear of them, believing they are nothing more than advanced humans who have learned how to control their own evolution. Twenty-six of the children, with the pribirs' assistance, will sneak away from Andrews to join the pribirs in their ship. Their experience with mankind's new saviours will alter the future of humanity, offering hope as well as an end to our existence as we have known it.

Told through multiple viewpoints and temporal perspectives, Kress sets this engaging speculative drama within a not distant period of ecological upheaval, in which global warming and biological warfare alter our planet to the point where mankind's survival is threatened. The pribirs' attempt to rescue us from possible extinction, while benign, is motivated by an understanding of evolution quite at odds with our most basic conceptions of free will and what defines us as human. And the choices the children will have to face, along with their descendants, will confront the very essence of their own humanity. A story that speculates upon an all too plausible future, in which mankind's genetic legacy is revealed as both the engineer of our own destruction and as a source for salvation, possibilities — and more importantly, choices — are presented that are uncomfortable, sometimes grim in their eventual insights and outcome, yet offer hope for the future. The only perceivable hitch in this tale of loss, hard survival and redemption, is its dependence upon outside intervention, which some may find a romanticism unlikely to save us in the end. Nonetheless, this is one of the more enjoyable and intriguing fictions I have read this year, and the future Kress has envisioned, for all its harshness, is balanced by the deep compassion and understanding with which she treats her characters, who at times seem all too real not to offer both despair and comfort.

— William Thompson, Interzone 193, Spring 2004


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