My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you’ve paid any attention to the History Channel lately, you’ve seen (or have skipped over it puzzling why such a show is on the History Channel) the series Ancient Aliens. Its premise is that aliens have meddled in humanity’s past, influening history, religion, technology and perhaps even DNA. It’s the stuff of science fiction.
Nancy Kress’s Steal Across the Sky takes up a similar premise. The aliens have come. They have meddled in humanity’s past. They have returned and have established a base on the moon.
These elements have the makings of an alien invasion novel. The aliens, calling themselves the Atoners, however, have other purposes in mind, at least according the ad they’ve posted online. Acoording to the ad, they are here to apologize to human species for interfering with its past stealing off with humans at various times as part of their unfathomable experiment. Now they have come to atone for their sins.
To do this, they recruit 21 humans to serve as Witnesses to their crime. They send the Witnesses to various planet to see how these experiments with the species have turned out.
The Witnesses come back with extraordinary information, species-changing information. At the same time, in what seems a just-in-case measure, the Atoners continue with their experiment.
The novel isn’t hard science fiction, it’s speculative science fiction satire, somewhat in the tradition of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It plays with a great “what if”? premises, and pokes gentle fun at ancient alien theories, while at the same time poking fun at human reactions to the unfamiliar. The reactions vary from a teen suicide cult that evolves once the Atoners’s secret is revealed, to a fundamentalist Christian group bent on convincing humanity there is only one Atoner and that Atoner is the Anti-Christ.