Review | After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

It’s easy to see why Nancy Kress’s After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall  has done well with science fiction’s premier awards. Winning the Nebula and the Locus for best novella and garnering a nomination for the Hugo, the story is equally intriguing and gripping. It’s too bad her story flops for failure to satisfy reader expectations.

Pete, one of the Six, lives in the completely enclosed and environmentally controlled “Shell” in the year 2035. They are descendents of the few remaining survivors on Earth of a catastrophic alien attack decades before. Kept alive by the grace of the aliens–the Tesslies–Pete and his fellow survivors jump back to the past to rescue individual children, hoping somehow to overcome their captors and restart life again on the planet.

Meanwhile, Julie Kahn is a mathematician and contractor for the FBI helping to hunt down a mysterious crime spree that follows the outcomes of her algorithm. Each event brings her closer to a conclusion she may not be ready to accept.

Skipping between three timelines, the story quickly builds to a crescendo. Kress uses the absence of information as a tool to build mystery and suspense, creating a palpable sense of the ominous. Given how short the book is–a novella, by definition–it was easy to blow through it in just one sitting.

At this point, the book blogger code of ethics demands that I warn you that spoilers follow…or at least, information that could lead you to spoilers.

Despite Kress’ excellent writing, I struggled with her resolution. Rather than explain anything, it has the effect of deus ex machina, except that we have no idea where the ex machina emerges from. The twist–oh, yes, there is a twist, but if you’re still reading this, don’t say I didn’t warn you–has no explanation in reality or science fiction. It just happens. We never learn how or from whence it came…it just happens. And the major plot device–a time machine, robots, aliens, tidal waives, volcanos–none of it makes sense in the context of what Kress has promised the reader.If Kress had made angels appear and bring a message from God, it would have made more sense than the strange plot device she used.

Ultimately, for that reason, I finished After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall with a feeling of betrayal, disappointment, and like I had just had a heavy handed message about the environment stuffed down my throat. I might even have been ok with the message, if Kress had seemed like, just for a moment, she would justify it by some sort of explanation. As it was, though, her story amounts to no more than wishful thinking that might shift this book more into the fantasy genre than science fiction.  It’s good writing, but in the balance is a disappointing story.

Parent’s guide:

  • Sex: reference to sex between survivors to propagate the race, as well as some discussion about lusting after a certain “alpha” female.
  • Language: some swear words. A couple f-bombs.
  • Violence: the extermination of the human race through calamity, a fist fight, tramma of kidnappings


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About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.


  1. I’m sorry this one didn’t work out for you. The end is very, very deus ex machina, but I guess I liked the rest of it so much that i wasn’t as bothered. I really did like the twist.

    • Don’t get me wrong; it had a lot to talk about in it, and I liked the hook. However, it was disappointing to find an ending that didn’t match the expectations, even if it was a good twist.


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