Review – Steal Across The Sky

Cover of Steal Across The Sky by Nancy KressSteal Across the Sky, Nancy Kress
Review from January 1st, 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.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Yesterday’s Kin

Cover of Yesterday's Kin by Nancy KressYesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress
Received to review via Netgalley

This novella has two complementary storylines, really: each relies on the other to give it more meaning and to create tension, although each could be a satisfying story on its own. One thread of the story isn’t SF at all, as such: it’s about family and belonging, knowing who you are and knowing who your family are. The other thread is fairly typical SF: an alien civilisation contact Earth saying that they are very close to humans, genetically, and that a disease that devastated them is coming toward Earth. So then there’s a scramble to find a cure or a vaccine, with plenty of secrets and inequalities in the relationships, etc, etc.

Where the two come together is in the customs of the aliens, which emphasise family, and one of the scientists from the humans, who has besides her interests in genetics a somewhat dysfunctional family. I’m not going to spoil the various twists in the story which weave the two threads together, because I found it fairly predictable even without hints!

My main feeling is one that I’ve had before with Kress’ writing: I didn’t really feel the emotions deeply. It seemed like I should, but there was something distant about the characters. I could relate to them fine, but I almost didn’t believe their emotional moments, their turmoil. It was quite weird, intellectually recognising each reaction and knowing it was appropriate for the situation, and yet somehow not feeling as if it was real for the character.

Overall, I liked the ideas and the way the two threads work together, and though I’d begun to expect the twist, I did enjoy the way it happened. I just didn’t feel much for the story.

Rating: 3/5