Sunday, January 20, 2019

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Nancy Kress

Today is Nancy Kress's birthday. She's been writing great science fiction for over 40 years. Her 1985 story "Out of All Them Bright Stars" is on my list of the best SF short stories of all time. I didn't start reviewing for Locus until 2002, so this compilation of my reviews doesn't include work like "Out of All Them Bright Stars", nor "Beggars in Spain", nor "The Flowers of Aulit Prison", but she continues to produce exceptional stories.

Locus, June 2002

Nancy Kress' "The Most Famous Little Girl in the World" (Sci Fiction) is also solid, about a little girl who is taken aboard an alien ship. Her cousin tells of both their lives, intertwined with the periodic tentative revisits by the aliens, over much of the 21st century. The focus is on the two women's characters, as opposed to the aliens or the 21st century history portrayed, and it's well done

Locus, September 2003, review of Stars

The Janis Ian/Mike Resnick anthology Stars features a topnotch list of writers riffing on Ian's songs. ... Nancy Kress's "Ej-Es" takes us to a colony world just being visited by a medical ship. The colony has been ravaged by a plague, and the survivors live in squalor. But a side effect of the plague is hallucinations, very attractive hallucinations. The team faces a difficult question of medical ethics. In this case it's quite interesting to read the lyrics to Ian's song "Jesse" and see how Kress has run with some of the implications.

Locus, June 2006

Nancy Kress’s “Nano Comes to Clifford Falls” (Asimov's) is also strong work, about the promise and pitfalls of nanotechnology as demonstrated by its arrival at a small town. As long as I’m namedropping old novels, the obvious antecedent here is Damon Knight’s very dark A for Anything.

Locus, December 2006

Nancy Kress’s “Safeguard” is a scary and thought-provoking story that felt a bit strained to me. Still, it raises wrenching questions. It opens with four rather odd children in what is clearly an artificial habitat. But in a disaster the habitat breaks. Their “caretaker” picks them up, and she is, we soon learn, presented with a dilemma. The children are apparently bio-weapons – carriers of a plague. But she loves them – how can she kill them? But if she doesn’t kill them, is she instead killing millions?

Summary of Baen's Universe, 2008

By contrast, my two favorite novelettes came from veteran writers. These are Nancy Kress's "First Rites" (October) and David Brin's "The Smartest Mob" (February). ... Kress's "First Rites" is a tense story of a genetic modification that leads to a new form of consciousness -- not necessarily with happy results.

Locus, March 2009

The March Asimov’s also features a fine novella from Nancy Kress, “Act One”. The story is told by Barry Tenler, the agent for a slightly aging actress, Jane Snow. Jane is preparing for a movie about children with a controversial genetic modification which makes people extremely empathic. Barry has a special personal reason for concern about genetic mods – he wanted his son to share his dwarfism, and insisted on genetic changes when the fetus tested “normal” – changes which didn’t quite work. And in the wider world, all such genetic treatment is of course very controversial. But, as “Act One” shows, there are unexpected side effects to even apparently beneficial changes like increased empathy – and there may be worse side effects when fanatics, on either side of the issue – get involved.

Life on Mars review, May 2009 Locus

And Nancy Kress’s “First Principle” deals with Martians who have been specially adapted to live there, and with the prejudice of some Earth people – in this case, particularly an obnoxious teenaged boy – who can’t deal with their differences.

Locus, October 2007

The New Space Opera, edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, will definitely rank among the landmark original anthologies of the year. I greatly enjoyed it – if I had one quibble it would be that a book of “New” stories probably ought to have included a couple of “newer” authors – every author included is quite well-established indeed. I lack space to cover it in detail. There are many strong stories – .... Nancy Kress’s “Art of War” examines the tragic disconnect between an alien species view of art – and how they interpret looted human art – and the human view.

Locus, October 2008

The major novellas at the fall Asimov’s Double Issue are from Robert Reed (b. 1956) and Nancy Kress (b. 1948) – so both members of the Baby Boomer class. Both stories are enjoyable. It is Kress’s “The Erdmann Nexus” that does seem to me, however, a bit old-fashioned: almost explicitly channeling Theodore Sturgeon. Henry Erdmann is an aging physicist living in a nursing home, who is scared by brief strokelike incidents – but no brain damage is involved, and eventually there are apparent links to the memories of other residents of the home. And soon he learns that many of his fellow residents are indeed having similar episodes. The resolution – signaled from the beginning – is not surprising: elderly people are evolving into a higher consciousness. Kress does take this familiar idea in a slightly unexpected direction at the end – and there is a subplot involving a young attendant and her abusive husband that I found involving

Locus, November 2009

I have three months of Fantasy Magazine to catch up with. From September I particularly liked Nancy Kress’s “Images of Anna”. A “glamour shot” photographer is surprised when his photos of an engaging middle-aged woman turn up very strange – other people appear in them instead of the subject. He learns that the photographs are for her new boyfriend, who she met online – which raises red flags for him. But on continued investigation things only get stranger, and the eventual explanation is surprising and effective. The story works nicely metaphorically, in portraying the way a lonely and nice person sees herself … and fantastically, with the really quite delightful conclusion.

Locus, January 2014

In “Pathways” Nancy Kress (Twelve Tomorrows) tells of a backwoods family with a recurring genetic disorder: Fatal Familial Insomnia (sort of the real-life version of her “Sleepless”, without the positive aspects). Ludie, the narrator, is a young woman with the gene, who volunteers for an experimental treatment, against the wishes of her family, and in the face of a deadline – a cartoon -version Libertarian President is about to be voted out in favor of someone who will restrict this sort of research (but restore welfare programs). What works here, and works well, is the characters – Ludie and her family, and the Chinese doctor doing the research. Moving stuff, if, again, with a hint of wish-fulfillment in the background.

Locus, October 2016

In Now We Are Ten, there’s a good, short, fable-like piece from Nancy Kress, “Pyramid”, something of an allegory on success (appropriately for a retrospective anthology like this, there are nods to a number of SF greats).


  1. Thank you, Rich. I am moved and a bit overwhelmed.

  2. It's always great to have a reminder of just how many excellent stories Nancy has provided us over the years. Time for a re-read!