Friday, September 2, 2011

Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

”StealSteal Across the Sky
by Nancy Kress
narrated by Kate Reading

Copyright: 2011 Blackstone Audio
Duration: 10 hours 47 minutes unabridged
Genres: science fiction
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews
Click the image to visit the publisher’s website.

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: The aliens appeared one day, built a base on the moon, and put an ad on the Internet:

“We are an alien race you may call the Atoners. Ten thousand years ago we wronged humanity profoundly. We cannot undo what has been done, but we wish humanity to understand it. Therefore we request 21 volunteers to visit seven planets to witness for us. We will convey each volunteer there and back in complete safety. Volunteers must speak English. Send requests for electronic applications to witness@atoners.com.”

At first, everyone thought it was a joke. But it wasn’t.
This is the story of three of those volunteers and what they found on Kular A and Kular B.

©2009 Nancy Kress (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Ten thousand years ago, the Atoners visited our planet. Rather than just observe our fledgling species, the Atoners meddled. In a grand experiment of their own devising, the Atoners altered the DNA of homo sapiens, while abducting a number of unaltered humans and depositing them on seven different planets. Were they just curious, or deliberately mean? Maybe they interfered with humanity the way humans sometimes interfere with ant colonies, or bee hives. No one knows for sure, but what they did irrevocably altered the course of our species.

Now the Atoners are back, and according to their advertisement on the internet, they wish to atone for what they did.

“We are an alien race you may call the Atoners. Ten thousand years ago we wronged humanity profoundly. We cannot undo what has been done, but we wish humanity to understand it. Therefore we request 21 volunteers to visit seven planets to witness for us. We will convey each volunteer there and back in complete safety. Volunteers must speak English. Send requests for electronic applications to witness@atoners.com.”

They came seeking twenty-one volunteers to visit seven planets. The volunteers’ job was to observe the civilizations on those planets, and witness first-hand how homo sapiens was altered all those many years ago.

From millions of applications, the volunteers were chosen and brought to the Atoners base on the moon. They were injected with medical nanos to keep them healthy, equipped with personal shields, and sent off in groups of three to their assigned planets where they found human settlements in varying degrees of technological advancement, although none seemed to have reached an industrial age yet. It didn’t take the witnesses long to find out what the Atoners had done. These unaltered humans had a particular ability that was at once astonishing, and a little bit terrifying. Having shown this to the witnesses, the Atoners finally confessed that what they did ten thousand years ago was to turn off a specific gene that would have allowed humanity this amazing ability.

Their jobs done, the witnesses were brought back to Earth, but it was an Earth that would never be the same. As the incredible news of what the witnesses had learned spread, people reacted in different ways. Religions were shaken, cults formed, and suicide rates skyrocketed. And as the months passed, people began to notice that while the Atoners had confessed, they hadn’t really atoned for anything. What was their real purpose, and what were they doing up there on the moon anyway behind their opaque and impenetrable shield?

I found Nancy Kress’ Steal Across the Sky to be an entertaining and largely unique idea for a science fiction novel. I kind of like the idea of aliens messing with our DNA far in our past. That would explain a lot, wouldn’t it? We actually find out what the Atoners did about halfway through the book, much sooner than I expected. When Kress revealed that, I was really wondering what the second half of the book would hold, having already satisfied the burning question. Kress did not disappoint though.

In the second half of the book, a couple of enticing sub-plots come to the fore. The first involves one of the volunteers who had the foresight to take a sample of DNA on the world he was assigned to. He took a cutting of hair from one of the unaltered humans and brought it back, hiding it on the surface of the moon before re-entering the Atoner’s dome, knowing they would not allow him to keep it. Now he must find a way to retrieve it and get it to a genetics lab to see if they can restore the human DNA to its original configuration. Another exciting development involves a man who presents himself as a love interest for one of the female witnesses. Soon enough, it begins to look like he may be an agent of the Atoners, sent as a spy. These two plot elements are more than enough to drive the book through its second half, and in fact turned out to be a little more thrilling than the Atoners themselves. Oh, and I really enjoyed that message that the Atoners posted on the internet. It seems like a funny way for aliens to contact us, but then again what better way to get in touch with millions of people?

Kate Reading is a pseudonym for Jennifer Mendenhall, who also occasionally reads under the name Johanna Ward. Whatever name she goes by, Reading is a very capable and accomplished narrator. Born in America and raised in England, Kate Reading seems equally comfortable narrating with American or British accents. For Steal Across the Sky, Reading used an American accent, and also handled Spanish and Italian dialects for two of the characters with no problem at all. Kate Reading has been narrating since the mid 1980’s, and has a wide variety of works in her audiography. Science fiction fans will know her best for her narration of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which she co-narrated with her husband Michael Kramer. Reading has been awarded Audiophile Best Voice awards in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

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Special thanks to Blackstone Audio for this review copy. Audiobook review by Steven Brandt. This audiobook review is based on the unabridged audiobook. Come back soon for more audiobook reviews from Audiobook-Heaven.


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