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River Horses
Allen Steele
Subterranean Press, 120 pages

Allen Steele
Allen M. Steele's first published SF was his story "Live from the Mars Hotel," published in Asimov's Science Fiction in 1988. Since then his novels and collections have included Orbital Decay, Clarke County, Space, Lunar Descent, Labyrinth of Night, Rude Astronauts, The Jericho Iteration, The Tranquillity Alternative and All-American Alien Boy. Steele, a resident of St. Louis, MO, received both the 1996 Hugo Award and the 1996 Science Fiction Weekly Reader Appreciation Award for his novella "The Death of Captain Future," which appeared in Asimov's in June 1995.

Allen Steele Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: American Beauty
SF Site Review: Coyote
SF Site Review: Oceanspace
SF Site Review: A King of Infinite Space
SF Site Review: A King of Infinite Space
SF Site Interview: Allen Steele (part 1)
SF Site Interview: Allen Steele (part 2)

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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River Horses On a frontier world, like Coyote, banishment can be a death penalty. In Allen Steele's novella River Horses, two ruffians, Marie Montero and her lover, Lars Thompson find themselves exiled from their community after they can't make the transition from Rebellion to peacetime. Rather than a permanent exile, however, they are tasked with exploring the planet, still widely unknown, and reporting back via radio every couple of days. To increase their chance of survival, a savant, Manuel Castro, is sent along with them.

The inclusion of the savant, a sort of cyborg, helps Steele set up a relationship triangle (not a love triangle). Upon their departure, Lars nurses a strong antipathy towards the cyborg, while Marie is willing to see some usefulness in his presence. Lars, however, is more than willing to see anything less than outright hatred of the savant as evidence that Marie is not entirely devoted to him and her attitude toward the savant causes Lars pangsof jealousy.

Before Steele can fully explore that relatively simple relationship, he throws a curveball at the trio. Within days of the start of their banishment, they come across a small colony trying to make it on their own. The threesome is welcomed into the community, but no sooner do they arrive than they get caught in a power play between the two sides of the small village and must decide where their loyalties lie.

While River Horses could have been a standard exploration novella, it is Marie, Lars and Manuel's discovery of the small offshoot colony and their reactions that really make the story stand apart. Thompson's reaction seems at first out of place, given the jealousy he has shown towards Marie's interaction with Manuel, however, Steele carefully uses his reaction to flesh out other aspects of Thompson's character.

While at times the actions and the denouements seem a little too pat, Steele doesn't present his characters' adventure as any sort of fairy tale. All three show signs of growth, and all of them develop their own interests and desires, sometimes mutually exclusive. River Horses does not have a happily ever after for any of the characters, all of whom must come to compromise with each other and the world around them based on their own previous decisions.

Set against the backdrop of Steele's ever expanding world of Coyote, the story is not only an adjunct to Coyote's history as a whole, but also to the characters Steele has previously written about. In many ways, Marie, Lars, and Manuel could be having their adventure on any unexplored, dangerous planet, although by placing it on Coyote, Steele gives it a sense of depth that would otherwise be lacking in a story of this length.

Copyright © 2007 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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