Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress: Fast-paced and interesting enough to keep me reading thus far, this 2009 offering from the author of 1993’s multiple award-winning Beggars in Spain and its sequels is a thoughtful bit of social science fiction, mixing first contact with anthropological musings and explorations of multiple different worlds other than Earth.
In the near future, the “Atoners” contact Earth to say they grievously wronged humanity many millennia before and wish to “atone” for this as best they can by selecting small teams of humans to visit 7 planets and report what they find to humanity at large. Very little detail is provided to either those chosen or to the reader, with revelations coming very slowly. The book chronicles this “witnessing” from the viewpoint of the humans sent to the planets known as Kular A and Kular B.
I am a bit over 1/3 of the way into this, and so far I find the story engaging, if a little thin. This is the first book I’ve read by Kress, who has been writing well-regarded science fiction for many years. I’ve read that this isn’t the strongest of her works, and I am beginning to believe that, as while the premise is quite intriguing, many of the specifics are causing me to roll my eyes a bit, and I’m finding the characterization to be missing…something. Perhaps I simply do not much like any of the main characters. But as I am only part-way through the book, I don’t want to jump to judgment of the entire work just yet. Fortunately, despite some weak spots here and there, my curiosity is piqued, and I am eager to see how the story progresses. As the flow of the writing is snappy and fluid, so I expect to finish in a day or two. I am keeping my fingers crossed that at least one of the central characters will endear him- or herself to me more along the way.