After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is the sort of mediocre that is a few steps away from being a really bad book. Its saving grace is that it is a novella and doesn’t quite have enough pages to take those final steps.
The writing is plain but no one gives a shit about prose, so I’ll just skip on past that.
The two main characters are the only ones in the cast with any sort of development and it all comes late and out of nowhere. The rest of the characters filter in and out of the story as needed, never sticking around for long and rarely getting more than a line or two of dialogue before being rushed back to storage. I say storage because they don’t even linger on in the background, which makes the world of every stage of the fall feel empty.
Pete, our post-apocalypse eyes and ears, is a generic teenager who spends the majority of the book angry, horny, and jealous. This means that a lot of his scenes feature things like sulking, masturbation, hate-fucks, and temper tantrums. A little before it becomes relevant to the plot, he realizes that the people he encounters, lives with, and abducts are all human and have feelings just like he does. It doesn’t change his character all that much, really, but it helps the lead-in to the ending go a bit smoother.
Shit. Let me revise the above.
Only one character gets any sort of development. Julie, master of the algorithm, mother-to-be, and POV for the beginning and during stages of the fall, remains pretty much static through the novella. She does discover motherly love after giving birth, but that revelation lasts only long enough for her to remember that she has algorithms to work on. The sudden onset of paranoia could have led to character development, but it really just amounts to Julie pretending she’s in a thriller so the author can ham-handedly steer her toward a convergence for the endgame.
Speaking of the end…
The ending of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall manages to be both predictable and unpredictable all at the same time. Predictable because it ends exactly how you expect it to. Unpredictable because the what really happened twist at the end is literally a character shouting theories, which hadn’t been mentioned in the book prior to that point, at another character and everyone accepting them without question. If you are going to end something, you may as well end it by ramming it into a brick wall and reveling in the bloody, crumpled mess that results.
The best and most interesting parts of this book are the few, very short chapters that depict bacteria mutation and unexpected geological events. These scenes are straightforward with little variation, essentially the same scenarios carried out in a number of different locations, but they provide an impersonal view of the looming apocalypse from the perspective of the events that will cause it. And that is a breath of fresh air compared to the petty drama surrounding the other characters.
Perhaps the most baffling thing about After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is that it won a Nebula award. I can only assume this happened because the rest of the novellas nominated were god awful.