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After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

February 25, 2013

Once I played a dancer on stage—one past her prime, who stood still and gave a speech in Arthur Miller’s play After the Fall. The title of the play, with its grand theological overtones, has always resonated memorably with me. So when I heard about a new science fiction novel by Nancy Kress entitled After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, I felt I had to read it. One of the things that’s great about this novel is that the title is descriptive; it takes place at all three times. It is so cunningly put together and so enticingly readable that I sped through it in what I think of as escapist reading mode, forgetting to mark any pages to talk about later.

I do a lot of escapist reading in February. It keeps me from snarling so much. A few minutes ago I looked out the window at the flakes of white drifting around and snarled at Ron to say that I wished it would stop snowing. “It will” he said in a purposely infuriating attempt to sound cheerful and obtuse. “Now!” I hissed, in a manner that he characterized as Gollum-like.

At any rate, there’s nothing to take a person’s mind off the “burnt-out ends of smoky days” like a good post-apocalyptic story. At the beginning of the book, we are plunged into Pete’s world, which turns out to be the world after the fall. As the story progresses, we see brief glimpses of some of the biological processes happening during the fall. And then, at last, it becomes clear that we are currently living before the fall; a clever structure for this story.

Another clever bit is that when we are introduced to Pete, we are introduced to what he thinks destroyed the world, alien beings he calls “Tesslies.” As the book goes on, however, Pete learns that their role in the destruction of the world is not what he thought it was. The movement of the novel is through the narration of Pete, who is finding his way back to the fall, and the narration of Julie, who is moving inexorably towards him as she finds her way forward to the fall.

Pete lives in an alien-built enclosure with a few humans who were picked up by the “Tesslies” to survive the apocalypse. They use alien machinery, including one machine Pete and his fellow survivors call the Grab:
“The machinery sat in the center of the room, looking like nothing but a gray metal platform a few inches above the floor. If he climbed onto it, ordinarily nothing happened. But sometimes the platform started to glow and then it became a stupid invisible door. No, not a door. Something else. Whatever it was, if you jumped on the platform and went through it, you had ten minutes in Before.”

Julie is a mathematician who can predict when the next grab will be, although events on Pete’s end intervene to make her predictions look less reliable than they actually are. What Pete and the other human survivors grab is blankets, food, and babies, depending on whether the grab opens up in or near a house or a store. They prefer female babies, because it will take more females to re-populate the human race.

When Julie watches the news, this is what she sees:
“’Dead zones’ were increasing in the world’s oceans. No fish, no algae, no life.
The Nile was threatened by industrial pollution. No fish, no algae, no life.
CO2 levels in the atmosphere were creeping upward.
Overfishing was causing starvation in Southeast Asian islands.”

That’s the news in this fictional world before the fall. And so… if you know your place in this real, live progression, what can you do to try to stop it?

Oh, the cunningness of this Kress, yess, preciousss.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2013 8:18 am

    Cleverly constructed apocalyptic stories can be so amazing! There is so much to think about, especially as regards the way we live now and where we’re headed.

    • February 26, 2013 8:45 am

      As a lover of satire, I love the way this is not post-apocalyptic, but also pre- and mid- …because there’s still time to fix some of what’s wrong.

  2. Karen D permalink
    February 25, 2013 9:30 am

    I, too, like escapist reading at this time of year. I have tended toward PDFs and websites lately, though, rather than many actual books. Sigh.

    This year, though, I think I relate to a different portion of that Eliot poem:

    You tossed a blanket from the bed,
    You lay upon your back, and waited;
    You dozed, and watched the night revealing
    The thousand sordid images
    Of which your soul was constituted;

    and more due to infant-associated exhaustion than to the grimy chill of February.

    • February 26, 2013 8:54 am

      Ah, Preludes has something for everyone. I like the way it moves back and forth from the sordid and individual to the collective and almost beautiful–the “infinitely gentle” and “infinitely suffering.”
      I wish you more movement towards the beautiful in your months of dealing with some of the sordid. All mothers have at least one memory of their child’s infancy that is well and truly sordid; mine has to do with an evening I was on my own and both kids were sick and I couldn’t put the baby down long enough to wrestle his vomited-on crib sheet off and get a clean one on. That was a long night.

      • Karen D permalink
        February 26, 2013 6:13 pm

        Things are not so sordid as they are exhausting, just now. Someone is not so good at sleeping in the night-time hours….and I’m not great at sleeping in the daytime ones.

  3. February 25, 2013 6:54 pm

    Oh wow. This looks really really good. Yet my library does not appear to have a copy. Do you think it’s worth buying? I love love love it when a book has a clever and cool structure.

    • February 26, 2013 8:43 am

      Yes, I think it might be worth buying–it’s a Nebula award nominee for this year.

  4. February 26, 2013 11:36 am

    This story sounds intriguing. I’ll. Have. To. Put. It. On. My. List. I’m trying to cut down, but I think it is truly a lost cause.

    I have family on the east coast that I tend to make snarl about this time of year. I was out in the garden this weekend, getting ready for the season, and I found some tiny daffodils under the electrical box. If you would like, I’ll email the picture. It’s not a very good one, but maybe it will help with the February cabin fever.

    • February 26, 2013 1:25 pm

      Yesssss, we likeses tiny daffodillss picturesesss.

  5. March 12, 2013 1:43 pm

    i just bought one of her early ones, Probability Space, and am hoping to get to it soon. This new one by her sounds so good, too! I love your review of it as well. Showing the three stories coming together – very well done, Jeanne 🙂 Yes, I will be picking it up……

    Snarling is now for me – February I was still coming out of surgery, so all the late winter blues are now, when winter just will. not. end. Snow by this weekend! aaagh!!! I know spring is there around the corner, but it seems just out of reach…..I’m going to gardening journals in at attempt to stop being cranky 🙂

  6. March 13, 2013 4:26 pm

    It’s still snowing here today, but I am a little less cranky about it because the weather hasn’t been unrelenting; I hear that it was warm in Ohio, but I was in southern Missouri that day, where it was sunny and 72. That restores my faith in…well, almost everything.

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