Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Coyote, by Allen Steele

I've always like Allen Steele's writings. How could I not, with a last name like that? A number of years ago, he wrote a series of SF novels about near future events in near Earth orbit that were absolutely fascinating.

Recently, he wrote a couple of novels, OceanSpace and ChronoSpace, set in somewhat of an alternate future here on Earth, that I didn't find nearly as entertaining. In Coyote, he takes off for deep space on a stolen spaceship, which should have proved to be exhilarating, indeed.

In the 21st century, the United States has split apart, and perhaps the largest section is the USR, a near totalitarian ultra conservative state. The USR has pumped billions of dollars into building a ship capable of interstellar travel and colonization, and a group of political dissidents (mostly scientists and engineers - why are they such radicals?) decides to hijack the ship and escape the clutches of the evil regime.

Aside from one unfortunate soul who is awakened WAY too early from cryosleep, and who subsequently goes quite batty, the colonists and crew sleep through the voyage, so we don't get to learn if Steele has any new insights into interstellar travel. He builds some potential for interesting ongoing conflict into the difference in political philosophies between the dissidents and the USR military agents who end up along for the ride. But when the colonists arrive at their new home, the planet called Coyote, the worst of the gung-ho soldiers is killed off right away, most of the rest are coopted into the planet's new security force, and the ringleader, who might cause trouble later, is killed off by the planet's only deadly bugaboo, the boids.

Again, we learn nothing new from Mr. Steele about setting up a new society on a brave new horizon. The most intense conflict in the book seems to be the teenage angst suffered by the younger members of the colony, who steal some boats and equipment and set off on a voyage to explore more of Coyote than their elders think is wise. We do encounter some interesting flora and fauna, and even a possibly sapient species along the way. But, in the end, the teenagers return home to become responsible adults, spouses, parents and blend into the Coyote community.

I was disappointed, overall. However, Allen Steele's prose is quite good, and nearly makes up for the wandering plot and an expedition to nowhere in particular.

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