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Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress
Cover Artist: John Jude Palencar
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765319869
Date: 17 February 2009 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Award winning author Nancy Kress has crafted an exciting novel, Steal Across the Sky, that focuses on aliens who claim to have committed a crime against humanity some ten thousand years ago. Set in the near future, the aliens use the web to recruit volunteers to travel in space and "witness". What the volunteers are to witness remains unclear. The aliens send seven teams of three on voyages to selected binary planetary systems where the aliens claim to have settled human colonies. Each mission lands two members of each team, one on each twin planet. They are equipped with translator devices and personal protection shields. Weapons are optional.

Initially, Kress follows one of the teams and switches between the impressions of each member. The planets vary in culture and technological level. No one approaches the aliens or the Earth in sophistication.

The first half of the novel involves the witness mission and the remainder the aftermath when the witnesses return to Earth and share their impressions. Some refuse to provide much if any details and reject government protection. At least one, Cam O'Kane takes to the lecture circuit.

The aliens remain aloof and inscrutable. After initially confirming the findings of the witnesses in communications to them, they make no further pronouncements. After debriefing, decontamination, and removal of all alien inserted technology, they return the witnesses to earth.

Kooks come out of everywhere and include gunmen and suicide bombers. Various splinter groups seek to destroy the witnesses and mount sporadic attacks. They kill those without government or private protection. Governments fail to provide sufficient security to returning witnesses, but offer them a witness relocation and protection program. Fear and isolation eats at the witnesses. They can confide in no one. Their lives cannot revert to normal despite their efforts to do so.

An accomplished writer, Kress intersperses various bits of information between the action portions of the novel in the form of ads, intelligence reports, and website postings. Provided the reader accepts the initial premise, the action flows smoothly. Some may quibble with the plausibility of the basic premise and a few with the central theme.

Kress skewers current foibles and politicians. Governments don't try to attack the aliens, and appear powerless to prevent them from establishing and maintaining a moon base. Gene manipulation plays a major role.

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