Sunday, October 15, 2006


Coyote Rising

Review of Coyote Rising, by Allen Steele.
Normally, I wouldn't read a sequel before the original, but I had read some of Steele's work before, specifically Clarke County, Space and Labyrinth of Night and found them interesting, if excessively snarky in the Larry Niven and worst of Robert Heinlein (The Cat Who Walks Through Walls) tradition. Coyote Rising, the sequel to Coyote, fortunately has virtually none of his previous smartassery as it tells the story of the inevitable conflict between the rebel crew of the URSS Alabama (refugees from a theo-fascist America) and the next wave of colonists from the successor-state Western Hemisphere Union on the title planet, a moon orbiting a gas giant of 47 Ursae Majoris. The first half to two-thirds of the book goes well, alternating between straight narration and first person diary accounts from assorted colonists. The final third, however, seems rushed, with a Pollyanna ending that undercuts the drama of the climax, as though the author suddenly realized he was up to 300 pages with no denoument in sight. There were several other things that annoyed me: first, not enough information about the planet (despite several maps and even a calendar). I wasn't expecting an Encyclopedia entry, but for all the bare descriptions of the geology, flora and fauna, Coyote seemed about as alien as Southern California in a TOS episode. Second, we learn virtually nothing about the guiding principle of the Western Hemisphere Union, social collectivism, even though it is mentioned nearly every chapter and is given as a reason for the colony's failure. If it's not important enough to flesh out, why even mention it? Third, the bad guys are mostly cardboard cutouts, from the honorable bad guy who does the right thing to the chief bad guy who can be counted upon to go berserk at the most dramatic moment. Fourth, the sentient aliens seemed to serve no purpose (except maybe for a sequel) and smacked of The Man Who Would Be King paternalism. Fifth, Steele seems to lack the chops to handle technological change. The second wave arrives 250 years after the Alabama, but their technology may as well be identical and is pretty primitive to begin with; log cabins? Hide coats? Is this the twenty-second century or the Lewis and Clark Expedition?
Overall, a promising start despite the flaws, but an annoying ending. I still may be interested enough to read Coyote and the final installment Coyote Frontier, but they won't be high on my list.

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