THE RIVER HORSES
by Allen Steele
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
On a frontier planet like Coyote, one of the worst punishments is exile from the community. Following the war Allen Steeele documented in Coyote Rising, Marie Montero and Lars Thompson find themselves exiled from Liberty because of their inability to put their rough and tumble ways behind them in the community which is striving for a sense of decorum and civility.
Marie and Lars are not, however, sent off in the wilderness simply to die. Marie's brother, Carlos, is able to arrange for their exile to take the form of a six-month long exploration of Coyote's undiscovered countries. He has also arrange to have them accompanied by Manuel Castro, a savant who has fallen from favor. While Marie and Lars are lovers, they both hold a weariness against the cyborg Castro, although they have no choice but to accept him into their crew.
On the frontier (and in fiction), things don't always go as planned, and Marie and Lars quickly discover that while their relationship could survive when they have the padding of a community around them, it doesn't work quite as well when it is a smaller group, especially when Marie realizes that Manuel may actually be able to act as a partner and Lars adds jealousy to his repertoire of faults.
Things really start to come apart when the trio discover a small colony which is trying to make it on their own. Welcomed despite their exile, Lars and Marie must now determine if they are going to try to build something or if destruction is all they are capable of. It is this point when each of the characters suddenly has the chance to make their own decisions that the novella becomes very interesting. While prior to making landfall, they were forced by their situation to stay together, they can now move apart physically as well as emotionally.
Despite this, their past continues to pull on them, both because of the various decisions they made (and continue to make) and their relationships with each other. Eventually, the past proves an important as anything else they do, even as they each try to build a new life for each of themselves on the frontier of the frontier world.While Steele’s focus isn’t on Coyote itself, or even Coyote’s society, the planet does play a role in their activities as their exploration and alienation from society continues. Danger threatens them at all turns. This means that even when the characters do make the right choices, the results won’t necessarily be what they expect, or desire.
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