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Steal Across the Sky
Nancy Kress
Narrated by Kate Reading
Blackstone Audio, 10.5 hours

Steal Across the Sky
Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1948. She went to college at State University of New York at Plattsburgh, receiving a degree in Elementary Education, and spent four years teaching the fourth grade. Her first sale was a story, "The Earth Dwellers," to Galaxy in 1976. Her first novel, The Prince of Morning Bells, appeared in 1981. Nancy Kress moved on to write copy for an advertising agency, wrote fiction part-time, raised her children, taught at SUNY Brockport, and earned an M.S. in Education and an M.A. in English. In 1990 she became a full-time writer. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Nancy Kress Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Dogs
SF Site Review: Crucible
SF Site Review: Nothing Human
SF Site Review: Crossfire
SF Site Review: Probability Space
SF Site Review: Maximum Light
SF Site Review: Savior
SF Site Review: Probability Moon
Interview: Nancy Kress
SF Site Review: David Brin's Out of Time: Yanked!
SF Site Review: Stinger
SF Site Review: Maximum Light
SF Site Review: Beaker's Dozen

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven Brandt

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Ten thousand years ago, the Atoners visited our planet. Rather than just observe our fledgling species, the Atoners meddled. In a grand experiment of their own devising, the Atoners altered the DNA of homo sapiens, while abducting a number of unaltered humans and depositing them on seven different planets. Were they just curious, or deliberately mean? Maybe they interfered with humanity the way humans sometimes interfere with ant colonies, or bee hives. No one knows for sure, but what they did irrevocably altered the course of our species forever. Now the Atoners are back, and according to their advertisement on the internet, they wish to atone for what they did.

  "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 21 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."  

They came seeking twenty-one volunteers to visit seven planets. The volunteers' job was to observe the civilizations on those planets, and witness first-hand how homo sapiens were altered all those many years ago. From millions of applications, the volunteers were chosen and brought to the Atoners' base on the moon. They were injected with medical nanos to keep them healthy, equipped with personal shields, and sent off in groups of three to their assigned planets where they found human settlements in varying degrees of technological advancement, although none seemed to have reached an industrial age yet.

It didn't take the witnesses long to find out what the Atoners had done. These unaltered humans had a particular ability that was at once astonishing and a little bit terrifying. Having shown this to the witnesses, the Atoners finally confessed that what they did ten thousand years ago was to turn off a specific gene that would have allowed humanity this amazing ability.

Their jobs done, the witnesses were brought back to Earth, but it was an Earth that would never be the same. As the incredible news of what the witnesses had learned spread, people reacted in different ways. Religions were shaken, cults formed, and suicide rates skyrocketed. And as the months passed, people began to notice that while the Atoners had confessed, they hadn't really atoned for anything. What was their real purpose, and what were they doing up there on the moon anyway -- behind their opaque and impenetrable shield?

I found Nancy Kress's Steal Across the Sky to be an entertaining and largely unique idea for a science fiction novel. I kind of like the idea of aliens messing with our DNA far in our past. That would explain a lot, wouldn't it? We actually find out what the Atoners did about halfway through the book, much sooner than I expected. When Kress revealed that, I was really wondering what the second half of the book would hold, having already satisfied the burning question. Kress did not disappoint, though.

In the second half of the book, a couple of enticing sub-plots come to the fore. The first involves one of the volunteers who had the foresight to take a sample of DNA on the world he was assigned to. He took a cutting of hair from one of the unaltered humans and brought it back, hiding it on the surface of the moon before re-entering the Atoner's dome, knowing they would not allow him to keep it. Now he must find a way to retrieve it and get it to a genetics lab to see if they can restore the human DNA to its original configuration.

Another exciting development involves a man who presents himself as a love interest for one of the female witnesses. Soon enough, it begins to look like he may be an agent of the Atoners, sent as a spy. These two plot elements are more than enough to drive the book through its second half, and in fact turned out to be a little more thrilling than the Atoners themselves. Oh, and I really enjoyed that message that the Atoners posted on the internet. It seems like a funny way for aliens to contact us, but then again what better way to get in touch with millions of people?

Kate Reading is a pseudonym for Jennifer Mendenhall, who also occasionally reads under the name Johanna Ward. Whatever name she goes by, Reading is a very capable and accomplished narrator. Born in America and raised in England, she seems equally comfortable narrating with American or British accents. For Steal Across the Sky, Reading used an American accent and also handled Spanish and Italian dialects for two of the characters with no problem at all.

Reading has been narrating since the mid-80s, and has a wide variety of works in her audiography. Science fiction fans will know her best for her narration of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, which she co-narrated with her husband Michael Kramer. Reading has been awarded Audiophile Best Voice awards in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Copyright © 2012 Steven Brandt

Steven Brandt spends most of his waking hours listening to audiobooks and reviewing them for his blog, Audiobook Heaven. When not reading or reviewing, Steven is usually playing the saxophone for the entertainment and amusement of his family.


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