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Allen Steele
Ace Books, 386 pages

Ron Miller
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: 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 Cindy Lynn Speer

By the year 2070, the United States has become transformed; becoming so mired in politics and repression that the ideals it was based on have been twisted unrecognizably. The elite, hoping for an even better life, have built a ship called The Alabama, and imprisoned the scientists who created it with the other political prisoners. This does not sit well with Captain Robert E. Lee, who, with a band of like-minded people, steal the ship and take the prisoners and a few guards with them. In cold sleep, they hurtle through space, to a new planet called Coyote, where they will try and establish a new life for themselves, despite the hardships they face along the way, and on the planet itself.

In some ways, Coyote is a series of short stories. Each chapter was originally printed in Asimov's Science Fiction, a serial that began January 2001 and ended December 2002. Each part is its own solid story, a puzzle piece adding to the larger work. Even though these parts tell a story with a beginning and end, they have themes woven through them that forge the story into a whole, that build upon each other. For instance, journals play an important part. The first journal is written by Leslie Gillis, who lives a nightmare in the part called "The Days Between." Awakened three months after the departure, and light years from their goal, he finds himself completely alone on the ship, with no way to get back into cold sleep. Knowing that he'll die long before he sees any of his fellow passengers again, he goes mad, then, slowly, begins to create a life for himself, painting wall murals and writing a fantasy epic that will become almost a guidebook to the people who later get to read it. This part is incredibly creepy for me. If this happened, you'd be stuck, your life would encompass only what you could find for yourself in a relatively small confines; it is eerie and tragic. The idea of journals, or writing, being important continues in "Liberty Journals," where you see short happenings through the eyes of several different people, and their journals. Wendy Gunther's voice is among them, introducing us to her writing in preparation for "Across the Eastern Divide", which was pulled from her memoirs. These journals are sometimes recorded, sometimes written by hand, and each perspective gives us, not only some adventures, as when we follow Wendy and her friends on an exploration of the new planet, but a very complete and round story. We not only have the hard science and action that we expect, but also quiet times, where the action is interior as each person struggles to create some form of life for themselves.

Also, this style of book building gave Allen Steele a chance to play with different points of view. Not just perspectives, as I said earlier, but different ways of telling the story. Sometimes you have first person, sometimes you have second person omniscient. The first chapter of the book is a combination of espionage and action story, as Lee and his crew fight to prepare the dissidents for the flight without alerting the authorities to their doings. Then the next story is about the man who was awakened earlier, making the book very quiet, very interior. There are so many different flavors to the stories; exploration tales, family dramas, and it all works well because they are separate pieces. Coyote makes for a very full reading experience, driven by characters who are very sympathetic and interesting, as well as plotting that takes the idea of colonization and pushes it a bit further, making it feel more plausible than ever before.

Did I have a problem with the fact that there are only 103 colonists on this mission, set to accomplish an almost insurmountable task? Yes, but I got past it, reminding myself that the Vikings exploring and settling in the Americas probably didn't have that many people on their long boats. (Though, on the other hand, those colonies did fail.) My other problem was that they were all these scientists and no farmers. It's a bit like having all tanners and no blacksmiths, though I suppose you can explain this by saying that scientists are pretty smart people, and can figure out how to grow food.

Despite these thoughts, I enjoyed Coyote immensely. I didn't read its serial versions, so I can't tell you if there's a lot of difference. I will say that it reads smoothly and perfectly, and if you aren't in the habit of looking at the copyright page (or reading reviews) you'd never know.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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