by Allen Steele
Review by Ernest Lilley
Ace Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441015641
Date: 01 April 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
As much as I enjoyed Allen Steele's Coyote trilogy, and really, I did, I'm delighted to find that his newest book set in the same universe, a bit after the last, doesn't take place on the rustic colony planet, but where a good science fiction novel should: starfaring into harm's way and hanging out with aliens who think we're rude hicks. Jacques Truffaut is as bright and eager a space cadet as you're likely to find. Like many a youngster in the golden SF days of yesteryear, he's a natural at piloting and astrogation, and his first best destiny is in Earth's Union Astronautica space fleet. He's also a devoted older brother, which turns out to be his undoing, and a baseball fan, which just makes him a little more human.
His younger brother, it turns out, isn't a natural spacehound, but making it through the academy would offer him a better life than the one they both left behind, so Jacques was willing to bend the rules a bit to help him get by. Unfortunately it blows up in his face, and by the time we meet him in the opening chapter of the book, he's engineering that most difficult of all space-epic escape plans: stowing away on an interstellar cruise ship.
Now, while that may all sound like stuff we've seen done before, Steele breathes plenty of fresh life into it. He has the gift of being able to mine the past, present and future for the best parts of each and fitting them together to make something both recognizable and completely his own. All of which is set against the backdrop he's created over a series of books about the human colony on Coyote, just a wormhole jump away from Earth and on the edge of the greater galactic (alien) civilization, where hicks from humanity are definitely not welcome.
Jacques is hoping that Coyote could use a freshly minted spacehand in its small navy, and he's willing to take desperate chances to get there and claim asylum. It doesn't quite work out the way he'd planned, though he does manage a run to first, a slide into second and a valiant attempt to steal third and get on Coyota-firma before getting called out by the ump. Fortunately, someone does need a spacehand, someone with connections, and our boy finds himself up at bat again, this time as shuttle pilot on humanity's first trade mission to the stars.
Along for the fun are a couple of characters from previous Coyote stories, including a rebellious young gal from Coyote named Raini with her own dark family history surrounding her brother, which makes her ability to relate to Jacques pretty sticky. Though they are both teen-ish in their attitudes, Steele has done a nice job of showing how their different histories work for and against them as the crew of the good starship "Pride of Cucamonga" go from strangers to teammates on a "first contract" mission. (By the way, if you haven't read Greg Costikyan's First Contract, allow me to recommend it for the next book after you finish Galaxy Blues.)
I don't think I can keep from pointing out that Galaxy Blues is as Heinleinesque a book as you're likely to ever find, and indeed, you'll find lots of bits in here that are more likely than not pure tribute. Like when our young protagonist tries to pick up a book in an alien guest room tricked out to look like a human library, to find that the book is just a prop. Shades of Kip in Have Spacesuit will Travel. In fact, there's a lot of Kip in Jacques Truffaut, and a fair amount of Podkayne in Raini.
In Steele's capable hands, though, Galaxy Blues moves beyond the well-worn path and into new territory.