by Allen Steele
Review by Ernest Lilley
Ace / Penguin Putnam ISBN/ITEM#: 0441011160
Date: 10/1/2002 /
Though Coyote came out last November, if fell off my radar somehow, and I when I happened to stumble upon it in the bookstore I kicked myself for not paying more attention. Allen Steele is always worth paying attention to, and Coyote is exactly the sort of humanity reaching out into the universe story that I enjoy the most. So, here, if a bit tardy, is the review. - Ed. A near future ultra-right wing America builds humanity's first starship, The Alabama, and gets set to launch it towards a newly discovered planetary system so that their particular ideology might be spread among the stars. What they don't count on is a band of dissidents who remember a more pluralistic society fondly, and to whom the idea of a flag with only one star where once there were fifty is an anathema. And it occurs to them almost too late that someone, like the captain of the Alabama, might steal their starship and take a different legacy to the stars.
Coyote was serialized in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and appears in book form with here with slight tweaking. That's a grand tradition in SF, which has created some great books, Coyote included. It's important for the reader to know though, lest they come across a chapter that seems oddly familiar...without knowing why.
When the Alabama reaches its destination, the hopefully habitable moon of a giant ringed planet 47 light years from earth, the colonists are decanted from their hibernation tanks to prepare for descent to the moon's surface. These are not the hand picked astronaut/colonists that trained for the flight though, but the political dissidents that the government thought it was rounding up for a purge the night before the ship left earth. They were rounded up all right, and purged too...but not the way the government planned.
There's tension aplenty among the colonists, crewmembers, and a handful of soldiers caught on board at the last minute, and putting their differences aside to survive on a new world is as much at the heart of this story as the tale of the colonies survival and exploration of the new world.
Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of the few teenagers that are along either by chance or design, and their story echoes of Heinlein and Twain as they face a planet full of challenges...and rivers. For them, it's a coming of age story which should take its place next to the best of Golden Age SF's story's of young people facing the challenges of worlds filled with enigmatic aliens...or adults, as if there was a difference.
Like the best of those books though, it's not a juvenile, except that it renews the sense hope and determination that older readers may have lost their grip on. Allen Steele takes humanity to the stars, with all our faults intact, but also with our dreams of freedom.