Wednesday, July 10, 2013

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress

Summer, the time Hollywood likes to bombard movie theatres with action movies where lots of things blow up and the balance of life as we know it may hang in the balance. In a world where digital special effects can deliver the most mind-bendingly realistic visions of destruction we have become numbed to the possibilities of things more deadly happening, literally beneath our feet, quietly preparing to destroy mankind.

This is the premise of Nancy Kress's ecological science-fiction story After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. Despite sounding like a trilogy, what Kress delivers is a tale told fragments of Earth before, during, and after the planet has gone about the process of putting itself back into balance. It's probably best not to say too much about what, exactly, happens except that if you're a fan of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions -- or more importantly, what happens after all three of those things happen at once -- then that's all you need to know going in.

Well, almost.

In the After there are kids, barely teens, who travel from the future with the mission of snatching infants from homes within a very small window of time. They don't understand the technology or who left it for them but they know they need to grab infants from just before everything went to hell and made a small group of survivors sterile. Knowing, as they do, what is about to happen to people in During of late 2013 (!) there is no sense that what they are doing is morally wrong because, in their mind, they are saving humanity.And while us humans of the During go about our little lives, beneath the earth plants are mutating and calderas are bulging and tectonic plates are getting ready to shift.

In the During sections an FBI consultant is working out predictive algorithms to figure out when these strange kidnappings are going to take place next. With no forced entry and no evidence left behind all they investigators have to go by are the patterns of place and the few bizarre witness accounts of a boy disappearing with the infant in his arms right into thin air. Fifteen-year-old Pete, one of the few children born of the initial survivors, came into a world where all he knew was a protective shell that keeps the poisonous outside world at bay. Pete hates the "Tesslies" who he believes attacked Earth, destroying the planet and humanity as it did. Where they come from and how they continue to help Pete and the other survivors is a mystery that slowly unravels as the Before, During and After sections of the story all come together in the end.

What Kress packs into 187 pages is a wallop of a story, a mystery and science-fiction wrapped into one, and with an ending that leaves as much unexplained as it explains. Who the Tesslies really are, and how they achieve what they do, the curious reader can work out those details on their own, and there's a lot to be said for not having everything spelled out. The imagination of the reader is a powerful thing and one that Kress doesn't insult.

Although Kress does have a sci-fi book for teens coming out this fall (depressingly huge at over 500 pages) you'll find After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall in the regular sci-fi section of most better bookstores and libraries. A quick and satisfying summer read, and a lot more satisfying (and terrifying, but in a good way) than anything Hollywood can offer up these days.

Curious?  Kress has the first chapter up on her website for free.

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall
by Nancy Kress
Tachyon Press 2012


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