I had a half hour to dork around a mall before a friend’s birthday party, so of course I went to Barnes & Noble. Did anyone know they have a YA SF/F section now? Interesting sign in the real world of a trend I’ve seen online for at least a year.
At any rate, after browsing for my allotted time, I picked up After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall: A Novel by Nancy Kress. It’s really more of a novella, as evidenced by its place on the Hugo ballot, a slim 182 pages in my copy. I’ve never read her work before, but this little/big story made me rethink that.
“The year is 2035. After ecological disasters nearly destroyed the Earth, 26 survivors—the last of humanity—are trapped by an alien race in a sterile enclosure known as the Shell. Fifteen-year-old Pete is one of the Six—children who were born deformed or sterile and raised in the Shell. As, one by one, the survivors grow sick and die, Pete and the Six struggle to put aside their anger at the alien Tesslies in order to find the means to rebuild the earth together. Their only hope lies within brief time-portals into the recent past, where they bring back children to replenish their disappearing gene pool. Meanwhile, in 2013, brilliant mathematician Julie Kahn works with the FBI to solve a series of inexplicable kidnappings. Suddenly her predictive algorithms begin to reveal more than just criminal activity. As she begins to realize her role in the impending catastrophe, simultaneously affecting the Earth and the Shell, Julie closes in on the truth. She and Pete are converging in time upon the future of humanity—a future which might never unfold. Weaving three consecutive time lines to unravel both the mystery of the Earth’s destruction and the key to its salvation, this taut adventure offers a topical message with a satisfying twist.” – GoodReads blurb
The way this book is written pushes a lot of my personal buttons – a fast-paced narrative, separate story lines that are woven together at the end in a satisfying flourish, some great female characters, and lots of tension, even in the slower moments before the world starts to unravel. Julie is fantastic – a mathematician, an incredibly strong and smart woman who manages to figure everything out on her own and act on it. MacKensie is one of the Survivors in the Shell, and she’s managed to focus her entire remaining life on trying to rebuild the human race, raising angry, frightened children with more patience than I’d ever have, trying to instill in all of them the same values.
Pete is the other focus of the novel, and wow, is he angry. Mix in the average teen angries with deformities, a broken world and aliens to blame for it, and you get someone who is nearly a Johnny One-Note. Once he finally figures things out, though – I wanted to jump up and down for him.
It’s a novella, so it’s not anywhere near as fleshed out as a novel would be. Quite a few of the characters are one-dimensional; there just isn’t space to develop them. Really, this in many ways is a true hard science fiction story, where the story is really the main character.
I highly recommend this book. I think I’ll try Beggars of Spain next. I’d like to see what she does with a full-length novel.