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Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress

Steal Across the Sky

by Nancy Kress

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Liked but didn't love. The beginning is stronger than the end; the ending is, in fact, fairly unsatisfying, presumably in order to leave room for a sequel. I love the idea behind the book, but I wish that it had all been worked out in a single volume.

Kress intersperses traditional narrative with ads, crossword puzzles, television transcripts, etc., that serve to show how the Atoners and their big secret affect contemporary American culture (there are a few nods to other countries, but they are fairly perfunctory). I could never decide whether I liked these or found them distracting. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
An alienc race calling itself the Atoners contacts Earth and wants volunteers to help it atone for what it did to humans. Human volunteers go to planets that were seeded with humans from earth eons ago. They are to "witness" something but they don't know what. The witnesses to notice what is different about certain humans and announce it to the world when they return. Creates extreme reactions.

Decent bit of world creation when the witnesses go to 2 worlds, but the best part is how closely the mental workings of the main characters are followed. Very good character development and the plot is a great psychological thriller. Could have extended the story a bit more.


Some of the seeded races could see and talk to the recently dead (going on the second road). Four of the returnees are followed - one becomes a icon, one tries to rationalize his experience, another just wants a normal life - without the crazies, and another sees it as his duty to God to return this ability to humans on earth. However, it turns out that the Atoners did a reverse seeding anyway. ( )
  triciareads55 | Aug 12, 2016 |
In the not-very-distant future, aliens calling themselves The Atoners contact humanity. Millenia ago, they wronged humanity--and now they want humanity to know about it. They choose a few dozen people to travel to colonies of humans the Atoners established around the universe, and "Witness." What the "Witnesses" are supposed to see or do is left up to them--they are told that they'll know it when they see it.
By the end of the first third, both the reader and the characters have discovered what the Atoners have to atone for. The remainder of the book is about how the Witnesses--and the rest of humanity--deal with this revelation.

The characters are distinct, and complex, although they lack depth. I liked Cam a great deal, and grew to appreciate Soledad. By the end of the story, I hated Lucca, not least because the narration is so non-committal about him. As it was, I couldn't tell whether Kress knew one of her main characters was a privileged, patronizing prick.

I liked this story, but I was frustrated because Kress can do so much better. In her Sleeper trilogy, the consequences of a simple genetic manipulation on a tiny percentage of people are far-reaching, dramatic, and eminently believable. In this, a huge revelation has no impact on day-to-day life on Earth. Nor does that revelation have any affect on the other human planets. I really wanted to see the difference between societies! Kress is excellent at bio-ethics, but I wish she'd taken this story a little further. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Really interesting book. I found it to be surprising at every turn, and I never felt like I knew what was coming next - which is kind of rare. Has some great first-contact in the first 1/3rd of the book, and so many little mysteries sprinkled throughout to keep you guessing. Not a totally satisfying experience (not wrapped up in a pink bow), still extremely entertaining and well-written. ( )
  chessakat | Feb 5, 2016 |
Nancy Kress sets up a fascinating premise in this novel. Aliens, who refer to themselves as Atoners, set up a website and email address for humans to apply to become "Witnesses" to a mysterious crime the Aliens committed against humanity 10,000 years ago. Millions apply, but only 21 are selected, 15 coming from the United States. This seems to be a theme in Nancy Kress's books, briefly mentioning other areas of the world (a greater acknowledgement than some other US writers) but ultimately focusing on the importance of the United States influence on events, sometimes even on an interstellar scale.

It transpires that the Atoners kidnapped our ancestors and took them to various star systems. Each system has one A planet and one B planet, the earth serving as the control in an epic experiment. The witnesses find primitive cultures on each of the planets and it takes the first half of the novel to discover what it is the Atoners did in their experiments and what they are trying to fix.

The second half of the novel is the fall out of the revelation on Earth and how we cope, or fail to cope, with it.

Throughout the story we switch between key witnesses’ perspectives. After their initial thrill about being chosen as witnesses, most have to contend with their frustration over not knowing what they are meant to be witnessing, then eventually once they discover what the Atoners have done, what the Atoners want the witnesses to do or say about it. The Atoners never set foot on earth or any of the other experimental planets, and remain largely mysterious throughout. I did have some sympathy for Soledad, a witness who has to deal with a lot of crap, but I didn't feel much for the other characters. While I did enjoy the book, and Kress is a solid writer, this story could have been much shorter and had the same level of impact.

I listened the audiobook and Kate reading did a good job distinguishing between male and female voices, and overall it was professional if not standout, performance. ( )
  wifilibrarian | Nov 23, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nancy Kressprimary authorall editionscalculated
Palencar, John JudeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh;
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.
-Sabine Baring-Gould
History . . . is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
-Edward Gibbon
It ain't necessarily so.
-Ira Gershwin
For Marty,
King's pawn to King's pawn 4 . . .
First words
"Well," Cam said, rising on her toes and leaning toward the bridge's main screen, "there they are."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765319861, Hardcover)

The aliens appeared one day, built a base on the moon, and put an ad on the internet:

“We are an alien race you may call the Atoners. Ten thousand years ago we wronged humanity profoundly.  We cannot undo what has been done, but we wish humanity to understand it.  Therefore we request twenty-one volunteers to visit seven planets to Witness for us.  We will convey each volunteer there and back in complete safety.  Volunteers must speak English. Send requests for electronic applications to witness@Atoners.com."

At first, everyone thought it was a joke.  But it wasn’t.

This is the story of three of those volunteers, and what they found on Kular A and Kular B.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:08 -0400)

The aliens appeared one day, built a base on the moon, and put an ad on the internet. At first, everyone thought it was a joke. But it wasn't. This is the story of three volunteers who answered that ad, and what they found on Kular A and Kular B.

» see all 2 descriptions

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