Kress, Nancy. Steal Across the Sky.

NY: Tor, 2009.

Kress is best known for her “Beggars” trilogy, the focus of which is genetic manipulation. That subject provides the underpinnings of this story, too, but in quite a different way. It’s a generation in the future and things aren’t that different on Earth — except for levees in lower Manhattan because of global warming — and then the world is startled by the sudden appearance of an alien presence on the Moon.

The “Atoners,” who say they did a great disservice to mankind in an earlier age, send out a call for human volunteers to visit a number of other worlds as “witnesses” — but witnessing what, they don’t say. The two dozen applicants who are accepted (out of several million) are mostly not academics or technicians. Cam O’Kane, for instance, is a waitress in Nebraska with only a high school education and a rather flamboyant personality, but she’s one of those chosen. And off they go in threesomes, one to visit each of a pair of planets in a given system, the third to stay on the main ship in orbit. Cam and Lucca, a wealthy would-be anthropologist (before he lost his wife), have very different experiences on Kular A and Kular B, but there are certain points in common. And then, when they discover just what the object of their witnessing really is (which I can’t detail here without giving away the whole story), this phase of the book ends and the rest takes place back on Earth. Kress likes to pose interesting questions without ever really proposing a final answer to them (life is like that), and she does that here, so the reader will have to make up his own mind regarding the intersection of religion and science. The characters, as usual, are well done and the slowly-building narrative is nicely managed — although, annoyingly, we never do find out just what finally happened on the two Kulars after the observers departed. And there’s a nice big question at the end. This is very much a thinking person’s science fiction novel, and I recommend it.

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Published in: on 23 November 2011 at 5:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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