Way back in the halcyon days of about a decade ago, author Nancy Kress received a lot of attention for a work of fiction titled, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. Kress’ story won the Nebula Award for Best Novella (2012) and Locus Award for Best Novella (2013). Additionally, the post-apocalyptic tale was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novella (2013), Theodore Sturgeon Award Nominee (2013), and was an Endeavor Award Nominee (2013). Should you not want to read further, the book didn’t stink.

*I did my best to avoid too many spoilers and so I chose to leave specifics of the story to a minimum.

It’s clear from reading this story that Kress is no hack author. There is an economy of words, and the story was tightly planned. It took me awhile to get my head around a central unifying theme, but once it was clear the story made a lot of sense. While on the surface it focuses on ecology, and the evolving actions of three different timelines (past, present, future), in reality the story felt aimed at being personally accountable.

This interpretation of the tale, which came out of a discussion from a book club I’m a part of, tied a lot of things together very nicely. “We can bemoan tragedy all we want, no matter what the scale, but at the end of the day we have to be willing hold ourselves accountable if we’re serious about fixing things.” I don’t take credit for this reading, but it makes the story much clearer. Humanity is as much a part of what happens on Earth, if we don’t control of our actions, then we can only reap the results-even if that means our eventual destruction.

If all of this sounds a bit heavy-handed, it’s because the story reads that way. I felt at times the writing was a bit forced to ensure the narrative followed a particular flow that set up the conclusion, but it wasn’t always smooth. By the end it felt like arriving at the climax was the absolute goal, but making the architecture of the story work the way it needed to wasn’t always as smoothly engineered as it could have been.

What’s more, there were odd incongruities. One that really stood out were the obvious themes of motherhood and childbirth, but they were contrasted against the almost complete annihilation of all life on Earth. To my unrefined mind, this juxtaposition never really appeared to add much to the story, but I feel like because the story was well written there’s maybe something I’m not seeing. That being said, among my book club, I wasn’t the only one a bit confused by this.

As an aside, for anyone wondering if the author of a story can impact a story, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall answers that with an emphatic “yes”. Arguably the two most important characters, Julie and McAllister are both leaders, and female. They make strong decisive choices, they’re well-educated, they take responsibility for themselves, and help others achieve their objectives for the greater good. The male characters in the story all sort of orbit around these two, and I can’t imagine a male author would have constructed a book like this the same way.

This was a great, but not perfect book. The idea that we blame everyone but ourselves matters, and its a powerful notion in a story about environmental tragedy. More importantly, it’s an actionable idea (being accountable for one’s actions) as the planet hurtles towards ever greater catastrophes that result from our (mis-)management of the natural world. Kress’ story is as much a moral as anything else, and while it won’t be to everyone’s taste it is a poignant entry into contemporary genre fiction, as well as one that merits it’s accolades.

To learn more about Nancy Kress and here works, such as After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, please consider stopping by her website, and always support the authors and their work! Additionally, try the publisher, Tachyon Publications. Enjoy!

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