Review of Coyote by Allen M. Steele
by Allen M. Steele
In Coyote, Allen Steele demonstrates the versatility of science fiction as a medium for storytelling. There are no advanced alien species (that we know of so far), no ray guns, and no evil battle droids. Instead, Coyote is a pioneer tale set in a very distant, very exotic locale. In fact, it's interesting that I chose to read it, considering my distaste for "pioneer" and "survival" type literature. Nevertheless, Steele's writing and the story kept me interested enough to see it through until the end.
Still, I must confess that my favourite part of the book is the first part, which concerns the take over of the URSS Alabama by her own crew! They do this to escape a totalitarian government that now rules most of what was once the United States of America. There was considerably more tension in this part of the book, at least on a large scale, than in other parts. Once the colonists arrived on Coyote, I was fairly certain their colony would survive, since ... well, otherwise, there wouldn't have been a story. The politics of Coyote are rather two-dimensional, unfortunately; I tolerated them at first because I thought we would leave them behind once the Alabama left orbit. And we did, until the end of the book, where new developments herald the arrival of "social collectivism" on Coyote. I tried to avoid my eyes and read on....
That doesn't mean the rest of the book is a disappointment. Steele continues to inject a sense of suspense and adventure, but after the departure of the Alabama, he narrows the scope to individual characters. First we watch the communications officer, Les Gillis, awaken prematurely from "biostasis" only to find he can't return to stasis--he's stuck on the ship, conscious and alone, for the rest of his life. We watch him go insane, then sane again, then grow old ... and after he is long dead, we are still present to witness the consequences of his residence on the Alabama for the rest of the colonists when they awaken 200 years later.
As much as Coyote is a novel of exploration and colonization, toward the end there's less discussion of the state of the colony as Steele shifts focus to individual characters' exploits. The small size of the colony magnifies the smallest of conflicts. We grow close to Wendy and Carlos, teenagers when the Alabama leaves Earth who eventually mature into adults. Everyone on Coyote is flawed; Wendy and Carlos are no exceptions. Both of them lose their parent(s) in separate accidents shortly after the Alabama arrives at Coyote; perhaps inevitably, they grow closer and have a child. Yet Wendy seems burdened by the death of her father and a lack of close relationships with her peers and adults--she seems close only to her surrogate mother, the colony's doctor, and Carlos himself. Carlos, on the other hand, traumatized by the death of his parents and a few others close to him, sets off on an ill-advised solo journey along Coyote's unexplored equator. I enjoyed Carlos' journey as a parallel story to that of Gillis on the Alabama. However, I think I like Wendy better. She always seemed more mature.
Coyote contains great storytelling with a fascinating alien setting and interesting characters. It's not perfect--its politics are somewhat shallow, and I found the first part of the story more interesting than any adventures that followed. However, it's certainly good enough that I'll read the next instalment in the series. Anyone interested in "a novel of interstellar exploration," as the cover of my edition proclaims itself, would do well to try this book.