Readers’ Advisory 2: After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. Nancy Kress

Quick Facts

Author: Nancy Kress

Published 2012 Tachyon Publication

189pp. 9781616960650. $14.95

Science Fiction

available in print and e-book

Why I Read It

The cover is striking. A tsunami wave and cracked, egg-shaped building, not to mention the tiny skull are great indicators for a science fiction story. I kept reading, despite my feelings about the characters and the story, because of the tiny chapters that making up “During the fall”. I’ve never been so invested in the life cycle of bacteria.

TLL’s Tag

One cataclysmic event changes the population and topography of Earth.

The Rundown

In 2035, four adults, six children, and a coterie of others are trapped in an egg-shaped containment called the Shell. They are ruled by an unseen force called the Tesslies, aliens. With machinery given to them by the Tesslies, the six children are able to go into the past, specifically 2013-2014, and kidnap children. These children are hoped to be fertile and, when the time comes, will help repopulate the Earth. But what happened?

The year is 2013. Julie is a mathematician tracking the disappearances of children and break-ins in an attempt to prevent another kidnapping. She has developed an algorithm that will help the government, but when the task force is disbanded she continues on her own. A series of events leads her to understand that the Earth is killing itself in order to self-regulate all of the changes and pollution caused by humans.

Here’s what I think

This was not my book. I like science fiction and everything that entails, but I did not connect with this one at all. First, the characters. I hated Pete, even remembering that he’s only 15 years old. His choices always seemed to come from way left of center. I also understand that his brain may be messed up from radiation from his parents. None of these make me like Pete. They are the facts of his existence. I felt that Julie had no depth as a character. We know nothing about her past or, at least, what caused her to be such a loner. She seems to have retreated into her science, only has one friend, and has a strained relationship with her family. While not important to the story, I still feel like some history was missing. I could have done without Gordon anywhere in the book. His only purpose was to frame Julie’s entrance into the plot.

Second, the highly inappropriate relationship between McAllister and Ravi. If McAllister is supposed to be the mother figure and teacher of the children in the Shell, why is she sleeping with Ravi? Fertility is not a good enough answer. A good mother knows not to openly choose favorites. It causes conflict in the house. Why, then, does McAllister choose to have sex with Ravi, when she knows that Pete has a huge crush on her, which is also inappropriate? They are already going back in time and kidnapping children from Before, why does she need to sleep with Ravi? It has already been proven that children born of the original survivors have physical and mental handicaps. Does she just want another child? Does she actually want a relationship with Ravi? Pure survival as motivation just doesn’t cut it.

As a storyteller, Kress has done her job in making me feel a way about her book. My issues with the book are purely story driven. They grow from a place of engaging with the text, not from being pulled out of the story by technical errors.

Final decision

Well written, classic science fiction is hard to find, and this is a great example of the genre.

5Q–Hard to imagine it being better written.

4P–Broad general or genre appeal.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus


Stephen Baxter

Kay Kenyon

Richard Powers


Pure, Julianna Baggot

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

I am Legend, Richard Matheson

Appeal Factors

Apocalyptic, bleak, thought-provoking

Book talk ideas

The mutating bacteria p. 10, and various

The Shell, p.21

The Tsunami, p. 170

The grab machine, p.54-55

Book discussion questions

1) What are the Tesslies?

2) Do you belive the Gaia theory? Based only on the book’s presentation of the theory, does it sound reasonable? A self-regulating planet?

3) How did you feel about Gordon? Pete? Julie? McAllister?

4) Did you recognize any of the songs Darlene sang?

5) What sort of radiation would be in the air from a giant tsunami?

Clues to the Future

After the Fall Before the Fall During the Fall, Nancy Kress, science fiction, the Gaia theory, the shell, Tesslies, Julie, Pete, McAllister, the Shell

Awards and Lists

2012 Nebula Award

2012 Locus Award

2013 Hugo nominee

2013 Sturgeon Award nominee

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author Twitter handle: @NancyKress

Clarke’s World interview:

Lysator interview:

Tor review:

Locus review:


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