Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Allen Steele's Spindrift is set in the same universe as his series of Coyote novels, although it only briefly touches on the events in those books. Instead, Spindrift looks at an exploration team which has gone off in an entirely different direction to examine a potential artificial object in a universe which has yet to discover an alien intelligence. The Galileo is the craft sent off to make rendezvous with the strange item
Spindrift is told from the points of view of three characters, Emily Collins is the shuttle pilot on board the Galileo. Ted Harker is not only the second in command of the Galileo, but also Emily's lover in what may be the worst kept secret on the ship. Finally, Jared Ramirez, a scientist aboard the spaceship who specializes in xenobiology, and who prior to joining the crew of the Galileo was serving a life sentence for participating in a genocidal act.
Initially shunned by the entire crew, Ramirez eventually makes common cause with Harker and Collins based on their shared disdain for the incompetent popinjay of a captain, Ian Lawrence. This results in the three of them, plus scientist Jorge Cruz, making an extravehicular trip to the Spindrift once the Galileo reaches its target.
In many ways, the Spindrift is simply a maguffin for the crew to explore and figure out. Its primary purpose in terms of the novel is first to get the crew of the Galileo to its destination and then to provide a puzzle for Harker, Collins, Ramirez, and Cruz to solve. Steele skillfully merges the group's interpersonal relationships with their discovery of the purpose of the Spindrift, and then provides evidence that everything they thought they knew was incorrect.
While this voyage of discovery is at the core of Steele's novel, he does incorporate other hooks as well. The tensions on the Galileo play an important role in what happens on the ship while the small team is exploring the Spindrift. Even when the team is separated from Lawrence, the Captain, his incompetence, and his own agenda continue to play a major role in what the characters can do and they must respond to him.
The novel is surrounded by a framing technique, so even as the main story is begun, the reader already knows who will survive the encounter with the Spindrift. What Steele leaves open is the manner in which that survival occurs and what the crew learns during the course of their mission. Fortunately, the main section of the novel is interesting and well written enough that knowing, in general terms, the outcome is not detrimental.
For all the exploration, discoveries, petty (and not so petty) animosities, and characterizations, Spindrift is a novel in which nothing really seems to come to a conclusion. Spindrift almost appears to be written as a prologue for a novel which will deal with many of the same themes in a much more epic fashion. Steele's writing style helps carry the novel and his characters cause the reader to want to find out how their lives will end as mysteries are proposed and their solutions revealed.
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