Coyote Series by Steele, Allen, 2006

Coyote Series by Steele, Allen - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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Unlike most themes in SF, I am not really a fan of colonization stories. I will admit that I tend to be a bit bi-polar about them; I usually criticize them because they are either too light or too heavy in describing the challenges that colonists must overcome in order to survive. Some of them I do not appreciate aesthetically though because the colonists are too bullish in their misguided efforts to remake a new world into a mirror image of the flawed one that they had just left. A perfect example of this, to me, is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. Yes, I get that they were very well written, thoroughly researched, and very well executed. In my opinion though they were all way too long and even if they were very informative, they were too detail oriented and not very entertaining overall. Riding a somewhat bumpy medium between technical and entertaining (though still seriously lacking) was Allen Steele’s fix-up colonization series, Coyote. This series did have its own problems in that it was quite disjointed and was written nowhere nearly as well as KSR’s Mars books, but I must admit that the series does seem to be pretty successful and has spawned quite a few sequels and related novels. This review is of the first book called simply Coyote after the name of the moon that was colonized. Two out of five stars.

Coyote

Coyote picked up in the very last stages of planning for the world’s first interstellar colony voyage. A harshly repressive U.S. government which was modeled on extreme conservative views had put together a crew to pilot the U.S.S. Alabama to the 47 Ursae Majoris system. Many of the mission planners however had been jailed to keep them out of the crew lottery. Captain Robert E. Lee had grown dissatisfied with the government and joined a plot to steal the Alabama and crew it with dissidents and their families. They executed their plan poorly, though it did come together in the end and 103 people begin the long journey in cold sleep to Coyote. Well…almost.

Although Steele did a barely passable job with character in other respects, he did manage to succeed with one named Leslie Gillis. In the rush to enter sleep pods Gillis entered the wrong one. Instead of getting into his own Gillis entered the sleep pod of a government spy whose pod had been programmed to eject him three months after the voyage started so that he could make sure that the Alabama had not been hijacked. Gillis had no idea how to put himself back into cold sleep, so after he came out he was forced to live the rest of his life alone on the Alabama, certain to die before it reached its destination 226 years and 230 light years away.

His first thought was “Thank God, I made it.” His legs were numb, his limbs stiff, and his body weak. He was naked and hairless from the hibernation process. As he slowly began to regain consciousness, he began to wonder why the medic was not on hand to aid him from his biostasis cell. His mind was still adjusting, but when Leslie Gillis realized the ship was deathly silent, he knew something had gone catastrophically wrong. He was alone.

Gillis lived to a ripe old age, but went insane before dying. He filled a section of the Alabama’s walls up with drawings and writing and unintentionally created a story that the colonists later used as a very rough guide of sorts to navigate the pitfalls of exploration and colonization. Gillis also reported seeing another spacecraft out the porthole window. Steele dropped the issue until the third book, though.

The rest of Coyote details the pitiful attempts of the reanimated crew to create new lives for themselves on Coyote. One of the main themes of the rest of the series is the speed of Earth’s innovation relative to the colonists. But in the first book Steele set the Alabama crew down on Coyote with virtually nothing, save for the technology that they could cobble together from the Alabama itself. This I think was Steele’s greatest failure. The revolutionaries who stole the Alabama apparently put no thought whatsoever into the skill mix that they would need to survive on an alien planet, and instead of picking those who might actually have some necessary qualifications, they took anybody who was willing to go. Granted, secrecy and necessity probably required that they take who they could get, but it is not as if the revolutionaries were fleeing the country for a less dictatorial nation on Earth. They were going to another planet, so I would have expected to see some planning and preparation. Furthermore, even though those who landed on Coyote were not the intended colonists, and thus had the wrong skill mix, it became obvious that the Alabama was improperly outfitted for the colonial experience. These people barely had shovels and there were almost no guns. They had no advanced construction materials, very little in the way of supplies: Nothing at all to get them started. As I read the thing I had a hard time believing that this group would ever succeed. It also seemed a bit silly to send so few people in the first place. How can a colony that is totally cut off from its parent survive with so few members?

Once the colonists reached ground Steele changed the direction of the story a bit, but probably in the wrong way. Virtually ignoring Captain Lee and the rest of the revolutionaries Steele decided to focus instead on the camp’s five or six teenagers. The story almost became a YA, with the young children of the revolutionaries taking center stage in the exploration and mapping of Coyote. Despite the abrupt change in focus, Steele did a fairly passable job of describing a trek through the wilderness. Coyote presented a number of problems, not the least of which were soil deficiency and a lack of construction materials. He also introduced an aggressive predator; a flightless avian species called boids that were given to hunt by stealth and would attack in numbers.

It was obvious to me after finishing this book that Steele would continue with the tales of Coyote. There were just too many open ends for him to stop after one book. He has not disappointed me. There are now four books about the Coyote colonization effort, and three or four other related works, set in the same universe. Steele seems to have had a great deal of financial success with the project. This book is pretty solid, but it will not ever be considered a classic. If the Gillis episode were not included it would only barely be passable; Gillis’ story makes the entire work better. Get this one for a long flight.

Coyote Rising

Picking up where he left off with Coyote, Steele’s second book in the series called Coyote Rising took the rudimentary political discourse of the first novel as its major theme, and failed utterly to say anything meaningful at all.

After surviving four rough years on Coyote a second ship from an impoverished Earth arrived with an additional 1,000 colonists. Though only four years had passed since landing on Coyote, the WHSS Glorious Destiny had departed Earth 186 years after the Alabama, in the year 2256. The difference in travel time was allowed for by innovation with the ship's drive. Instead of teh Alabama's paltry 5% of light speed the Glorious Destiny was capable of 95% C. Conditions on Earth had substantially deteriorated since the theft of the Alabama. These colonists were desperate to escape the overpopulated, resource depleted and dying planet they left behind, as well as the totalitarian communist government that ruled over them with an iron fist. When the Glorious Destiny arrived at Coyote and made it clear that they intended to reassert military control over the colonists, the settlers from the Alabama evacuated into the bush before they could be captured. Followed by four more identical colony ships the new arrivals land and promptly build a slum.

What follows is a guerilla war, complete with assassinations and the bombing of critical infrastructure, and quite frankly the good guys (who by the way have hearts of gold and wills of iron) cannot lose to the communist pigs (who are clearly evil in a Ming the Merciless kind of way). Steele also threw a few unrelated side stories into this book. One, the story of a crazy religious leader, pales in comparison to Leslie Gillis’s story from the first book, while the other, the story of a lovely musician who has lost her muse, exceeds it.

While a failure in just about all respects, Steele did manage to advance the one of his main characters pretty well. In Coyote Carlos Montoya is a teenager, and was itching to sew his oats. To prove his manhood Carlos took off on an unauthorized exploration of the island/continent that the Alabama crew settled, called New Florida. He eventually returned with some valuable logistical information, some even more important survival skills, and a new approach to killing boids, the predatory avian species that was all over New Florida. In Coyote Rising Montoya is morphed into the freedom fighter called Rigel Kent. The reason for the name change Steel never bothers to share with us. He has matured very well and consciously makes the decision to be ruthless even though he acknowledges that should he survive he will be changed by his experiences, and he will forever be a wanted man.

Other than that there is nothing else here, save for overblown sentimentality, poor plot structure and even poorer characterization. That and one of the stupidest religions that I have ever read. Best advice is to avoid this one. Two out of five stars.

Coyote Frontier

Set approximately twenty years after the conclusion of Coyote Rising, the third book in the series, Coyote Frontier tells the story of Coyote’s attempt to strike a bargain with Earth. Coyote is resource rich. It has all the timber and metals that a culture could need, and much of its face is virgin. Coyote also need to replace its aging technical infrastructure, and the only way that can be accomplished is with Earth’s help. It’s too bad that those on Coyote cannot agree on a plan. Trade is now possible because Earth-based scientists have now figured out how to open a wormhole between the two systems. But instead of trade ships Earth sends frigates and soldiers.

A civil war threatens when those in charge plan on giving Earth additional colonization rights on Coyote, the moon that they have already won and asserted dominance over. Steele goes back and forth between the government and the protesters, and just when it seems that someone is going to take the initiative and force the other group’s hand, Steel introduces an alien race that makes things all better. Actually he reintroduced them. Leslie Gillis had seen their craft from afar in the early chapters of Coyote, but Steele had kept mum since then about them. This one also takes up the cause of environmentalism when the exploitation of Coyote gets a little bit out of hand and shades of the exploitation of Earth arise. Honestly, get this one if you are a fan of absolutely stupid deus ex machine endings. Steele is about to publish his fourth entry in this series. I won’t be bothering.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 2 star(s)

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