Nancy Kress, Yesterday’s Kin (2014)

Image shows the cover of Nancy Kress's novel Yesterday's Kin. The spherical alien ships hover over the river hudson with a DNA double helix superimposed in the front

The aliens have arrived! But then they just stay inside their spherical ship, sending out a repeating message saying that they are on a “peace mission” to make contact with humanity. After two months of this suspense, genetics researcher, Dr Marianne Jenner, is surprised to be invited aboard the ship for a meeting with these elusive aliens. When she and a handful of other chosen scientists arrive and discover the ‘Denebs’ true identity, they are in for a big surprise (hint: it’s in the title).

They have come with horrific news, an interstellar spore cloud is on its way towards Earth and, when it passes through the atmosphere, everyone will die a horrible, painful death. The Denebs say that they want to help develop a vaccine, but they are up against what seems to be an impossibly short timescale.

The story alternates between Marianne’s point of view and that of her youngest son, Noah, who develops a deeper relationship with the Denebs. This enables Kress to explore two very different and conflicting perspectives on what’s really happening. As the months pass, and social unrest increases, the scientists begin to question the aliens’ motives and Noah must make a choice.

Yesterday’s Kin is a pacey, entertaining sci-fi thriller. The story is gripping, and the characters feel like real human beings, especially the middle-aged, flawed, but determined, Dr Jenner. I like first contact stories and I thought this was a good one, plus there’s a nice twist at the end.

However, I did find it a bit rushed and plot-driven, and thought it lacked the character development I’ve seen in some of Kress’s other novels, such as Steal Across the Sky and Crossfire. In terms of the content, I was irritated to see the “dead gay best friend” trope again. It pops up in Steal Across the Sky as well and is used both times to push forward a straight protagonist’s emotional journey. Not cool or necessary in my opinion, although there are decently written gay characters in Crossfire.

Something else I would say is that after reading several of her novels and short stories, I get the impression that Kress thinks the worst of humanity in general. Some individuals might be okay, but on the whole, she seems to believe that we’re going to fuck things up and behave badly in a crisis. This “vibe” may not be to everyone’s taste!

Yesterday’s Kin is followed by a trilogy of books and I probably will read them when I get around to it.

Managing Emotional distress

Ever since October 2017, I’ve been experiencing attacks of what I can only call extreme emotional distress. I don’t want to get into the details of what happened back then, but basically, a particular “event” seems to have somehow released all the emotional pain that I’d been repressing for about twenty-five years.

This has made my life really difficult. I feel like I can be ambushed at any moment and plunged into a pit of grief, despair and rage. Once I’m in there, it’s very hard to climb out again.

After a few weeks of feeling okay, I had another attack yesterday. I felt awful all day, aching chest and head, depressed, constant intrusive, negative thoughts, and it ended with a full on screaming/crying meltdown in the kitchen.

I’ll give myself yesterday, but I really need to get on top of this. The first thing I think I have to do is accept that these feelings aren’t just going to stop or go away, which is what I’ve been hoping. The gaps between attacks do seem to have got longer, but I think that’s more down to me getting better at avoiding the things that trigger the feelings, then any actual healing. When the feelings do come, they are as a strong and overwhelming as ever.

I know could get more proactive about managing my emotional state on a day-to-day basis, but here are some things that I think I could put into place for those times when I do feel myself being dragged into the “pit of despair”.

  • Create a safe place to be sad

Make a designated place in our living environment where I can go when I’m feeling really bad, where it’s okay to scream and cry into a pillow if I need to, or to just lie there and stare at the walls. It needs to be quiet and comfortable and stocked with soft toys (the distress seems to be coming from a very “young” part of me and cuddling soft toys is actually one of the few things that’s guaranteed to help).

  • Put together some tear-jerking “resources”

One of the problems is that, as someone who spent years disconnected from their emotions, I now find it very difficult to cry. This means that I end up with a horrible build-up of bad feelings that I can’t release until it comes to a crisis and I have a total meltdown. But, there are some things that always get the waterworks going (the death of the Mars Rover anyone?) and it might be good idea to access them as soon as I feel the pressure starting to build.

  • Allocate a notebook just for ranting

I’m someone who processes experience through writing (like I’m doing right now). It helps to get things out of my head and onto a page, but I don’t want to fill my nice journal with lots of awful, negative thoughts that make me feel ashamed when I read over them later. So, I could have a notebook as a dumping ground just for this stuff. I can rip out the pages or burn it when I’m done.

  • Log out of Social Media

If I’m honest with myself, the majority of these attacks have been triggered by stuff I’ve seen on twitter or Facebook. I don’t want to give up social media because I do still get a lot out of it and I love interacting with people, but I also need to accept and get better at managing the more harmful aspects, especially when I’m already feeling fragile.

  • Get better at aftercare

So far, my approach has been “Phew, glad that’s over, let’s get on with life”, because I’ve learned to deal with my mental health issues by POWERING THROUGH! I think I probably need to have an aftercare regime, which involves things like being really gentle with myself for a few days, restricting social media access, and doing comforting things.

So, those are some ideas for responding to attacks of emotional distress. Thoughts and suggestions are very welcome.

Lesbian/Queer Women Link Love #8

Queer Bible, U.A. Fanthorpe

LGBTQ Nation, Meet the Harlem Renaissance dancer who made sure lesbian history wasn’t forgotten

Queer Bible, Natalie Barney

Autostraddle, All Bones and Blood and Breath: Remembering Barbara Hammer

Quill and Quire, The 88-year-old creator of mystery’s first lesbian detective reflects on the character’s return

Lambda Literary, review of My Butch Career by Esther Newton

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Poppy Jenkins by Clare Ashton

March Life Round-up

This month has been busy and a bit stressful. I’ve had a lot on at work, we both got lingering colds, and our flat was invaded by mice, thankfully now evicted. But it’s also been a very good month for cultural activities.

We kicked off with a local folk festival. The acts were really high quality and introduced us to new music from Welsh bands like DnA and VRi. The festival ended with a quite astounding set from Nick Harper, covering songs written by the famous musicians he grew up around.

I went to see the RSC tour of Romeo and Juliet with my Mum. It’s a dark and serious production, clearly aimed at an adolescent audience and raises questions about gang violence and gender. I don’t think my Mum liked it very much, but I thought it was innovative and interesting. Great set design too.

I had to go to London for a work conference, so we made a trip of it, hung out with an old friend, and visited Gay’s the Word.

Work also took me to Liverpool. I’ve never been there before, which is odd, when you think that it’s where my Dad’s paternal family is originally from. I didn’t have time for more than a wander round the docks, but would like to visit properly at some point.

Finally, we saw Kristin Hersh (electric trio) play live and it was fabulous, as always. Touring with two long-term collaborators, this was a loud, life-affirming gig from people who truly enjoy playing together.

Reading

I finished Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr. and have many thoughts about it, which I’ll try and post at some point. I read Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress, which was an enjoyable SF thriller, and Acceptance, the last novel in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy.

I finished 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro, which was fascinating, if you’re interested in early modern history and literature.

And I loved Jane Hirshfield’s collection of poetry, After.

Television

We watched Season 5 of Stargate: SG1 which is good comfort TV and have started a Babylon 5 re-watch. We’re persevering with Star Trek: Discovery, even though it’s irritating the hell out of us on several fronts.