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Book Review: Coyote, by Allen Steele

A novel of interstellar exploration.


Coyote

Ace Books, 2002, 400 pages



Coyote marks a dramatic new turn in the career of Allen Steele, Hugo Award-winning author of Chronospace. Epic in scope, passionate in its conviction, and set against a backdrop of plausible events, it tells the brilliant story of Earth's first interstellar colonists - and the mysterious planet that becomes their home...

The crime of the century begins without a hitch. On July 5th, 2070, as it's about to be launched, the starship Alabama is hijacked - by her captain and crew. In defiance of the repressive government of The United Republic of Earth, they replace her handpicked passengers with political dissidents and their families. These become Earth's first pioneers in the exploration of space...

Captain R. E. Lee, their leader. Colonel Gill Reese, the soldier sent to stop Lee. Les Gilles, the senior communications officer, a victim of a mistake that will threaten the entire mission. Crewman Eric Gunther, who has his own agenda for being aboard. His daughter, Wendy, a teenager who will grow up too quickly. Jorge and Rita Montero, ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. And their son Carlos, who will become a hero in spite of himself.

After almost two-and-a-half centuries in cold sleep, they will awaken above their destination: a habitable world named Coyote. A planet that will test their strength, their beliefs, and their very humanity...

In Coyote, Allen Steele delivers a grand novel of galactic adventure - a tale of life on the newest of frontiers.




The United States has been overthrown in a coup, and is now the United Republic (actually only occupying part of North America, with the Pacific Northwest and New England having seceded and now at war with them, along with Europe). 50 stars have been replaced by a single one. The repressive police state has ruined its economy to build the world's first interstellar spaceship, which will carry one hundred colonists to another planet in hibernation, where hundreds of years later, they will ensure the Republic lives forever.

Except that Captain Robert E. Lee is loyal to the U.S. of A that he grew up in, and he plans to steal The Alabama.

The story is about the colonists settling Coyote, a world 42 light years away, but the first third of the book takes place on Earth, telling us how a group of dissidents conspire to sneak aboard the starship and replace its loyalist crew. The novel is really several short stories and a novella strung together in a contiguous timeline; there is stealing the Alabama; there is the story of the unfortunate colonist who's woken early and cannot return to hibernation, thus being condemned to live out the rest of his life alone aboard the ship; there is the landing and initial colonization of Liberty, on the island of New Florida, with all the expected exploring-a-new-planet-and-discovering-that-some-of-the-wildlife-finds-humans-tasty challenges; there is a teenage adventure with a shift to a first-person narrator, Wendy Gunther, who runs off with her boyfriend and several other kids on an ill-considered river voyage; this bildungsroman continues with her (now ex) boyfriend who continues his own journey alone; and finally, there is the arrival of another ship, which leaves enough loose ends for the next book.

Was Coyote terribly original? No, I've read more than a few "first interstellar colony" stories and this is very much of the same mold. Was the prose dazzling? No, but it was perfectly competent. I want to rave over Coyote because I liked it a lot, but I have to admit it's perfectly typical genre SF. But I like genre SF and Coyote was well-written, had no stumbles or clunky prose or stupid plot twists, and none of the characters were annoying or unbelievable. Since I can't say that about a lot of the SF "classics" I've been reading lately, I give Coyote a high recommendation if you like this kind of book.



Verdict: Coyote is exactly what it says on the cover. Allen Steele writes good solid hard SF without being a crank or exercising his fetishes (how sad is it that this makes him above average for SF writers?) and this first interstellar colony offers challenges, surprises, and a decent cast of characters.




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