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Book Review: After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress

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After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, written by Nancy Kress, is a disturbing, lively piece of fiction.

In 2014 Earth’s environment crashed. Mutated bacteria killed the plants, and geological disasters reshaped the Earth’s surface. Whether they occurred naturally or not, no one knows for sure.

The survivors live locked in a Shell with only a single small window to view the world. Creatures called the Tesslies put them there. The survivors blame the Tesslies for the destruction of the Earth.

Initially the Tesslies saved/captured 25 humans and put them in the Shell. They were given machinery and tools for survival, but this did not suffice. Twenty-one years after the Earth’s collapse, only four survivors and six offspring barely cling to life. The survivors’ children suffer from mutations and sterility. Without fresh supplies, mankind will soon cease to exist.

Recently, the Tesslies provided the humans with a time machine, but it came with strict rules. Adults using it die. It only accesses 2013, the year before the disaster. The machine activates randomly, and the children have no idea where it is sending them. They only get 10 minutes to steal things before the machine grabs them back.

In 2013, Agent Gordon Fairford, FBI notices the disappearance of the children, and starts an investigation with mathematician, Julie Kahn. She discovers a mathematical pattern to the thefts, and attempts to theoretically predict where the next abduction will occur.

Julie and Gordon provide an important element to the story; they give Kress a means to paint a bleak picture of society, a culture of greed and selfishness.

In After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall Kress modernizes and expands on Alfred Hitchcock’s and John Steinbeck’s 1944 movie Lifeboat. The movie places nine survivors in a lifeboat after a German U-boat sank their ship. The boats occupants must deal with questions about their survival such as doling out food and medicine.

Kress asks her characters to solve these situations and more. The survivors of the Fall face challenges that would have been taboo subject matter in 1944.

Pete, Ravi, Caity and Paolo form the band of time traveler thieves. They’re around 14 years old, and struggling with developing their identity in a world with few role models, but they’re responsible for the future of mankind. They steal blankets, clothes, and food.

Their pilfering campaigns spread beyond the basic necessities to include toddlers from their cribs. The population of the future needs people with non-mutated genes to perpetuate the species.

This band of juvenile delinquents answers to the survivors’ alpha female, McAllister. She instructs the adolescents on survival in the old world. She also teaches them kidnapping techniques. Does the fact that she is saving mankind make her any better than Charles Dickens’ Fagan?

Pete and Ravi, barely past puberty, comprise the colony’s only remaining sexually active male members. They struggle with the concepts of McAllister as a Mother, an instructor, and a potential lover. They find themselves competing for McAllister’s sexual favors.

Kress asks the readers to evaluate their own morals and ethics. What ethical boundaries would you willing cross, if the survival of mankind depended on your actions? Is theft justifiable? Is murder? Is kidnapping children? Where does love and romance fit into a world with only a few people capable of reproduction? If you were the last women, and the only remaining male was a mutated 14-year-old, would you?

The use of the Shell teases the readers. It’s oval and white with seamless walls. Do the Tesslies intend for it to be an artificial egg giving birth to a new civilization or are they planning on making an omelete? Read the book and find out.

Kress boasts a prolific, award-winning writing history. She’s published more than 20 novels and four short-story collections since 1976. She has won four Nebula awards as well as a Sturgeon, a Campbell and a Hugo. In addition to her science fiction and fantasy, she teaches aspiring authors about writing.

After the Fall will be launched on March 20th at Visions of the Apocalypse, a conference being held at the University of South Florida Tampa. Book signings and reception will occur in the Education Building lobby at 6:00 pm followed by readings in the TECO conference hall. The conference runs from March 19-21, 2012.

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About Bruce G. Smith

I'm a part time writer with a few articles published here and there. In addition to writing, I'm into nature and architectural photography.