I’m a little behind on Hugo Nominee reviews, but not because I am not reading – FYI, I’m on the 6th nominee right now, working my way through Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, which is fantastic! – but rather just not writing fast enough.
So I am starting off with “After the Fall, Before the Fall, and During the Fall” by Nancy Kress, nominated in the Best Novella category. This novella was a fun little ride, and it throws you right into the action. The title hints that she will be juggling three different stories lines at one time, one before, during, and after. This is handled mostly through dates and also through having two distinct sets of characters. Weaving three different story lines is a considerable task. I’ve seen some authors try this, to the effect of just dissipating dramatic tension. Let’s say that we were in story line A, and the tension is mounting, then we roll to story line B, and all the reader can think is, “hey, take us back to the first story line!”. Nancy Kress does a good job of juggling the tension, hitting the sweet spot of making us care about the story line we are in, and also making us wonder, “hey, what’s happening in the future/past?” The story splits it time following a new strain of bacteria that is evolving at a rapid, killing of earth plants, a future timeline of Pete and his group of survivors trapped by the “Tesslies”, trying to repopulate the earth, and a mathematician/analyst who is tracking the temporal backlash of the future survivors.
The plot is very intriguing, and it keeps you caring about finding out exactly, what caused the fall. You have to draw the lines between this new strain of bacteria and the eventual post-apocalyptic world we see the survivors in. Nancy keeps the sense of mystery, I feel, not giving away too much, but using the unreliable narrator very well. She has chosen to cut out of the most vital parts, and keeps the tension tight. Julie, the mathematician, obviously can not see the future, while Pete only has second or third hand accounts of the past that are spotty at best. And as Julie gets closer to the truth, and Pete seeks more and more information of the past, we meet somewhere in the middle for the climax of the story.
This is obviously a plot driven story, but the characters do a good job of being more than one dimensional. The two viewpoint characters, Julie and Pete, are the perfect unreliable narrators for the story. Julie is intelligent enough to try and analyze the subtle hints of impending apocalypse, while also tracking Pete’s “grabs” (jumps back in time to get more children to help repopulate the future earth). Pete on the other hand, is a great angst driven, post apocalyptic teenager, juxtaposition fears of the end of humanity with the growing pains of puberty, hormones, and women.
And the pay-off is great. The meeting in the middle does not disappoint, and the twist is not overly obvious, but also not a cheap trick. While I do think there are stronger offerings in the Novella category, I am glad that a novel like this got some recognition. It is quite easy to write hack post apocalyptic/dystopian YA fiction, the Nancy Kress avoids those pitfalls and writes a rather intriguing and fresh look at the end of the world, and what comes after. I give it a 4/5 for a refreshing short take on the YA dystopian genre.[Taken from Amazon.com]The year is 2035. After ecological disasters nearly destroyed the Earth, 26 survivors—the last of humanity—are trapped by an alien race in a sterile enclosure known as the Shell. Fifteen-year-old Pete is one of the Six—children who were born deformed or sterile and raised in the Shell. As, one by one, the survivors grow sick and die, Pete and the Six struggle to put aside their anger at the alien Tesslies in order to find the means to rebuild the earth together. Their only hope lies within brief time-portals into the recent past, where they bring back children to replenish their disappearing gene pool. Meanwhile, in 2013, brilliant mathematician Julie Kahn works with the FBI to solve a series of inexplicable kidnappings. Suddenly her predictive algorithms begin to reveal more than just criminal activity. As she begins to realize her role in the impending catastrophe, simultaneously affecting the Earth and the Shell, Julie closes in on the truth. She and Pete are converging in time upon the future of humanity—a future which might never unfold. Weaving three consecutive time lines to unravel both the mystery of the Earth’s destruction and the key to its salvation, this taut adventure offers a topical message with a satisfying twist.