Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Coyote, by Allen Steele, is the best kind of fix-up novel. Comprised of eight previously published tales, including Hugo-nominated "Stealing Alabama" and "The Days Between," the individual pieces take on additional meaning when read as part of the whole novel. In Coyote, Steele tells the story of a group sent off by an ultra right wing government as the first interstellar colonists. While Steele could have simply written the novel as the story of man against nature, he adds a variety of human conflicts, from individuals against the government on down, to the mix, giving the book additional strength.
Although characters flow in and out of the story, the novel focuses on the lives of Wendy Gunther and Carlos Montero, two of the younger generation of colonists who must add adolescence to the various other trials they must survive. Different chapters are seen though each of their eyes, with Carlos narrating the story of his solo expedition along the Great Equatorial River which circles Coyote in "Lonesome and a Long Way from Home." The previous chapter, "Across the Eastern Divide," is told from Wendy's point of view and clearly shows the changes living together in a frontier society has brought to Carlos, her, and their various friends.
The chapter entitled "Liberty Journals" is a good example of why parts of Coyote work better as a novel than as short stories. When this chapter appeared as a short story published in Asimov's (October/November 2001), it had an unfinished feel to it. The reader could tell that something had to have come before and presumed that something came after. In Coyote, it becomes a transitional chapter that builds on the earlier chapters and points the way to subsequent plot development.
Steele shows his characters aging and growing accustomed to their new home. Carlos shows a variety of signs of rebellion from his first appearance as a child being hustled aboard the Alabama until the end of the novel. At several points, Steele provides the reader with clues about what his eventual fate will be, although many of them are contradictory.
Just as much a character in the book is the setting. The colonists live on an unexplored world and Steele seems to enjoy showing the reader his characters' discoveries, both glorious and lethal, through their own eyes. At the same time, Coyote is slightly larger than Mars and at the end of the novel much of the planet remains untouched by humans and ripe for further exploration. The discoveries Steele has chosen to reveal leave open hooks for many more stories on this world.
In Coyote, Steele has captured the feel and sense of wonder of the writing of James H. Schmitz or Robert A. Heinlein's juveniles. Coyote is built with the care that Hal Clement brings to world-building to create a landscape which is both welcoming and foreboding. The story and characters will appeal to readers of all ages who are either discovering the Golden Age of science fiction or wish to return to it.
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