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Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress

Steal Across the Sky

by Nancy Kress

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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 |
...In some ways Kress presents the bare bones of a novel here. John Clute calls it sober in his entry for Nancy Kress in the SF encyclopedia. That is a fitting description. In some respects it is a very well written piece. The style reminded me a bit of The Secret City by Carol Emshwiller I recently read. It is effective in the way it works what the reader needs to know to understand what is going on in the story. Many readers will prefer a novel with a little more meat on its bones though. I enjoyed it, but where I think many of Kress' shorter pieces are exceptional, this novel is merely very good. It is well worth reading but not the best Kress has to offer.

Full Random Comments review ( )
2 vote Valashain | Oct 27, 2013 |
I didn't really intend to read Steal Across the Sky all in one evening, it just sort of happened. It's the first of my books for a challenge which I might or might not fully participate in, the Worlds Without End female writers challenge for 2013. I've meant to read Nancy Kress for ages, and I actually have Beggars in Spain somewhere to read, but on impulse I chose this one.

It's an interesting concept, or bundle of concepts: people are chosen to bear witness to the results of a crime committed by aliens long ago, and to take that knowledge back to the human race. But it's not a book about aliens -- we barely see the aliens -- it's a book about humans and how we might react, how things might change, if those Witnesses existed and came back with the news of what they saw.

Nancy Kress seems to be, from this at least, a good judge of what people are like. The whole range of responses is here, and a range of different personality-types to react to each other in all the ways people do, seeing things from different sides. My main quibble was that it felt very much like the narrative took a side in the whole debate, so I was very sure what the truth was. I would rather have wondered a little more, or even a lot more.

It's not so much about specific people and personal emotions, but about the central concept, and how it affects everyday people. There was enough personality there, though, to keep a character-orientated person like me reading. Once I'd picked this up, apart from a break to wash my hair, I read it more or less in one go -- it had me thinking, which is sometimes more important than feeling when it comes to books. ( )
1 vote shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nancy Kressprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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."
Last words
(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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