You don't know for sure what's going on here! There are strange things in the universe!"
Cam O'Kane's right, there are plenty of unknowns in the universe, and I'll add Steal Across the Sky
to the list of mysteries. The book disappointed me. Nancy Kress has written books on writing fiction. She's won four Nebulas and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award. No doubt, Kress has serious talent! So what happened here?
My first complaint--constantly shifting points of view. A 320-page book with 78 chapters, each chapter representing either a shift in pov or context-building sidebar to the narrative. Too much! I'm dizzy!
The sidebars themselves are complaint worthy. Repeatedly, Kress stops the narrative to show readers things like an advertisement for an Atoner-inspired video game, a suicide note from someone impatient to enter the afterlife, a snarky crossword puzzle with Witness names as either clues or answers, web-based calls to protest human exploitation by alien races, etc. I found these sidebars distracting and unhelpful.
Third, why? Why did the Atoners need Witnesses at all? Why did they commit the "sin" of genetic tampering, and why did they choose the genes they did? Why did Kress use untranslated Italian phrases? Why did the Atoners obscure their true appearance from humankind? Why would proof that there was indeed an afterlife, without any true knowledge of what that afterlife might entail, cause chaos and a rash of suicides? I have more why's, but I'll stop here.
In the end, I found Steal Across the Sky
to be a frustrating read with characters I cared little about and an ambiguous future for humankind. Will humanity survive? Is the form of "Atonement" chosen a good or bad thing? I'm not sure I care about the fate of this particular fictional universe. What I do care about is giving Kress a second chance. I'll pick up one of her Nebula winners soon.