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Kim Stanley Robinson, Richard Ferrone

Book review: Steal across the sky by Nancy Kress

Steal Across the Sky - Nancy Kress, Kate Reading

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.