This is the concluding volume of the three book series begun with ”Yesterday’s Kin.” At the end of the previous novel,” If Tomorrow Comes,” the Earthlings that visited the planet Kindred (named simply “World” by its inhabitants) have worked hard on a cure for the viral spore cloud that visited Earth and decimated the population. It is now headed to World. This is not simply a rescue mission; the people of World are genetically related to humans because 140,000 years ago some of the hominids on earth were transported to Kindred by unknown aliens and left to develop. But after a destructive power struggle on World, many of the original space travelers (using a starship developed by those still unknown aliens) are ready to return to earth.
There is a 28 year time lag between their leaving and return, even though it hasn’t been much more than a year on World. Things have deteriorated badly on Earth in the meantime. Those that survived the space-borne plague virus have divided into two groups: those that feel humans should be completely eradicated from the planet because they screwed up so bad (though there’s no discussion on what happens to the humans doing the cleansing) and a group who want to return to the living off the earth with next to no technology.
So the star travelers come back to a few domed communities which are philosophically divided. (The domes were also a creation of the unknown aliens and are able to withstand even nuclear attack.) The travelers return to two domes near the California coast. They are the last repositories of all the technology left on earth. And a good deal of it is military. There is one functional satellite for long distance communication; otherwise they must rely on just radio transmissions. Most of the huge cities are giant radioactive holes. But funnily enough, a lot of the natural environment has returned to reclaim the land.
The star travelers return is only partially celebrated; after all, many earthlings are convinced that the traveler’s from World are responsible for the original viral plague that decimated hundreds of millions on Earth. So---this is not the homecoming the crew of the star ship expected.
Most of the novel deals with trying to discover why some of the people (star travelers included) suddenly fall into a coma they can’t be woken from. When they do start to wake a few at a time, it’s discovered their brains have changed and they seem smarter, and their thinking more complex. Is it a new virus? Or has the old one evolved?
In the midst of these few survivors trying to deal with this unexpected twist in the plague, the humans that want to eradicate all the others are on the attack. One of the domes is forced to evacuate and crowd into the surviving community that’s already short on space and resources. Things get very tense and tempers are vicious.
Time is running out when two of the returnees to Earth begin to understand what exactly is happening with the transformed virus, and who the unknown aliens are.
Kress’s characters are so interesting and the layers are rich and engrossing. Reading about these people dealing with the returnees, their imminent attack by the Americans who loathe them and trying to come to grips with the changes that will affect all their futures was riveting.
A terrific end to this series. ~~ Sue Martin
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