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EP108: Kin

2007 Hugo Nominee!

By Bruce McAllister.
Read by Stephen Eley.

First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, February 2006.

The alien and the boy, who was twelve, sat in the windowless room high above the city that afternoon. The boy talked and the alien listened.

The boy was ordinary—the genes of three continents in his features, his clothes cut in the style of all boys in the vast housing project called LAX. The alien was something else, awful to behold; and though the boy knew it was rude, he did not look up as he talked.

He wanted the alien to kill a man, he said. It was that simple.

Rated PG. Contains implied violence and morally complex themes.

Referenced Sites:

The Girl Who Loved Animals and Other Stories by Bruce McAllister
Balticon 2007 Trip Report

Comments (23)

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  1. Lovely story! A little sentimental, and perhaps a little too enthusiastic about an interstellar assassin career, but anyway. It worked for me.

  2. Alan says:

    I think I understand it better now.

    It may be a combination of your reading, Steve, with the heart of these writers who seem to know the inherent struggle of being human. Or maybe just the struggle inside of me, I suppose, which is the desire to be so much more than I usually am. And by that I mean I want to be more innocent, more honest, and take more risks for love.

    I was initially surprised that the story resembled a pro-life declaration, and I’d never condone hiring an assassin to prevent an abortion. But the innocence of an isolated, “institutionalized” boy was enough to help me forgive his decision. Then I was grateful that the alien knew there were better alternatives available.

    But what overpowered that whole sidebar was the need of the boy to have more love in his life. I can forgive almost anyone anything when this is their true motive. Like I can forgive myself, when I make the same applicable mistakes.

    So … yeah. The authors of stories like this know a little something about how I came into the world. Maybe even experienced some of the same pain which creates this same desperation. And maybe you did too, Steve, which might be why you’re so good at getting me when you read these stories.

    Heck, maybe all of us share the same aloneness, and that’s why we’re all here. Ah, but there’s the rub, right? If we’re all here together … then just like Balticon … we’re not alone after all.

    Keep ‘em coming, Steve.

  3. Icepick says:

    Excellent story. Almost felt like it could have been a fanfic prequel to something like Ender’s Game. I found myself really wanting to here of his further adventures.

    Steve, I wish I had heard your essay prior to Balticon. I think I would have been inspired to be more outgoing and gregarious. It is funny that you used almost the same words as my son, who told me that even when he kind of felt shy he pretended he wasn’t and it completely worked for him.

  4. rob says:

    i agree with Icepick, i really want to hear other tales of adventure from the alien. i’m a sucker for stories of kinship. Steve, your reading of the story was top notch!

  5. Bill says:

    I really enjoyed this, thank you,

  6. Winsmith says:

    Cool Story, although not the very coolest you’ve ever read, and not the coolest of the Nominations. Agreeing with rob and Icepick, it would have been cooler still if it had shown somehow more of the real character of the alien — the violent killer side. Then the transformation would have been even clearer.

    As an aside: Did I miss some part of the story? If not, why is the boy looking forward to having a stash of weapons at the end?

  7. Samantha says:

    Was this story meant as an attack on women’s rights or a demonizing of China? Hard to tell. Personally I’m really tired of sci-fi stories where “Mankind can’t keep it in their pants.” is a major plot device.

  8. Jose from California says:

    To Winsmith: The boy was not “looking forward” to having a stash of weapons at the end. It was a dying gift from the alien to to the boy, a sort of kinship if you will (hmm . . . wonder if the that had anything to do with the story title). The weapons were just there; the boy could choose later, when he was older, whether or not to indulge in those weapons.

    To Samantha: Did you and I read the same story? Where the hell does China come into play here? [REDACTED] This is a story about a time when population is limited by the law due to overpopulation. A boy want’s to protect his unborn sister because — omygod! he feels a kinship to her already. He asks an alien for help, and the alien knows how to bend the rules, so to speak, by threatening the life of an official. Both women AND men have limited personal rights in this future history.

    (Editor’s Note: Parts of this comment were removed. We value your opinions of the story, but we do not allow personal insults against other people.)

  9. Jeff S says:

    Aliens? Check. Assassins? Check. Assassin aliens? Check. Chinese male chauvinist? NO!

    This story was awesome and I hope to hear more like it.

    PS – I thought the author’s bias against assassins in this story was totally blatant and uncalled for. Not classy in the least. First of all, assassins don’t die, especially not alien assassins. Second, a real assassin would never have answered a poorly written note from a child but if he DID he would have sneaked up behind the child, killed him and taken the $200 no questions asked. This story was so unrealistic and the author obviously did not research the topic.

  10. Samantha says:

    Jose: Periodically, China is demonized in the news for their laws limiting population growth. I do agree that the implementation of these laws are bad and that on the whole population control is to effect political control, but I also think there are already far too many people on the planet.

    What bothered me most about the story was the ‘ME’ factor in it. The boy considers his ‘sisters’ life more valuable than that of another person. A real person who (in all likelihood) has friends and families of his own. He is also only a tool, not the source of the law or the conditions that required it.

    What about all the other kids who want siblings, or sustainability for the planet or couples who might be denied having even 1 child because his family has two?

    This story was rather selfish and narrow-minded. All the characters in it were static. There were no plot twists, and the story was rather implausible to boot. A small boy could figure out how to con a seasoned assassin when no one else could even find him AND con him into doing his bidding for free AND endear himself to the guy and become his only heir. Come on.

    The plot was so thin and the characters so two-dimensional that I couldn’t really read it as anything other than a political agenda.

  11. Nora says:

    Samantha,

    It’s obvious this story struck a chord with you, but I think you’re listening to that chord more than the story itself. If every story about reproduction is going to trigger this kind of reaction for you, you should probably avoid them, along with stories about family, childhood, etc. For that matter, you should probably skip stories about humanity in general, since one of the facets of humankind is that we’re selfish and narrow-minded, and stories about us will naturally tend to feature these qualities on occasion. Unpleasant as they are, much as I would like to see us grow beyond them, I would regard the absence of these qualities as bad characterization of the species. What I liked about this story was that it balanced the child’s selfishness against the alien’s loneliness, and the child’s attempt to soothe a pain powerful enough to sense across the gulf of species differences. These qualities, too, are part of us, and not enough science fiction touches on the mix.

  12. Travis says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything Nora said. Samantha, you need to bear in mind that the rash, calculating and selfish decision to eliminate someone was made by a CHILD. These little creatures tend not to be big fans of rationality or social convention, something which changes over time as they’re exposed more and more to the world. And as for the story’s lack of ‘plot twists’, Mieville, Clarke, Banks, Asimov and the other giants of the SF and fantasy genre get by without them.

  13. Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) says:

    Man, you people think too much. Issues smishues, this was a cool story about a young man who does what it takes to protect what he loves, and who manages to offer a completely alien being a kinship it had willingly forsaken in order to undertake it’s life work. The author left a lot of ambiguity in there, but it seems clear to me that the assassin felt strongly enough about the boy’s understanding of his culture that it made him his heir. That’s powerful stuff, right there, without having to try and untangle what “real life” issues the author may or may not have been referring to.

    That’s just my take.

  14. Adam DeVeega says:

    Loved it, nothing else to say.

  15. Mogadeth (aka Kevin from PDX) says:

    To date my favorite story..

  16. Bob Young says:

    When I first heard the story, I heard a story about an alien assassin who turned a corner and had a heart when it came to a boy who asked for help. After reading the comments, I re-listened to the story and found that I could see it as a politically pro-choice story. Strange, others here see it as pro-life. I always thought pro-choice meant that the woman got to choose. There is no choice at the beginning and due to some pressure placed on the political official, the woman’s right to choose was reinstated. I don’t get the pro-life aspect except that is the choice that the boy’s mother made.

  17. Shockmain Dave says:

    Of all this year’s Hugo nominees that I heard on Escape Pod, I liked this one the best.

    Rather than taking sides in a modern-day political debate, it had something that occasionally shows up in science fiction: a good conflict, a great resolution, and interesting characters.

    I wish it had won the Hugo.

  18. Doomu Rewmi says:

    I just discovered Escape Pod.

    Here, I listened to and enjoyed the story of a boy who, going on selfish and hardly rational motives as only kids do when they want something, crosses the gulf betwen species and get to reach to an alien and befriend him.

    Sentimental yes. Nice, yes too. Well written and very well read too.

    Then I read the comments and all this pro-life/pro-choice issue pops up. And I am thinking “Wow! Does it have to be about the policical issues we are involved with ?” Really does it have to …

  19. Tim Carter says:

    I was rather a long time getting around to listening to this story, but after reading the comments, I rather agree with Doomu Rewmi. If you are always looking for an agenda behind every story, you will always find what you are looking for. That’s not to say the author didn’t have one. One of the things that appeal to me in any sci-fi story is not the techno-babble, but the human story, which is one of the reasons I like Robert Heinlein so much. You can “step into” his characters. The same goes for our present story. Unfortunately, that is also why some of the stories featured here zip right past me, without even slowing down. There’s nothing I can relate to. Fortunately, those are in the minority, here. I like stories that move me, and this one did. The alien in the story could be substituted for anyone who, to us, is utterly different but who we find, if we look closely enough, is not. Anyway, Steve, keep ‘em coming.

  20. scatterbrain says:

    Ah…some science fiction writers have evovled now from a libertarian agenda to an abortion agenda: what the fuck is wrong with this world..?

  21. [...] Kin first appeared in the February 2006 edition of Asimov’s Science Fiction, and was nominated for the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. You can read Kin online for free at Asimov’s web site. Sorry, this link is no longer valid, but… you can find an archived copy of this story at the Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine. You can also listen to a free mp3 version of this story at Escape Pod. [...]