(Ace, $23.95, 390 pages, hardcover; published in November 2002.)
Allen Steele's Coyote begins in the United Republic of America, a near-future successor to the USA ruled by a totalitarian regimecalling itself the Liberty Party whose disingenuous rhetoric of repression all too chillingly echoes the policies of contemporary real-world politicians.
The pet project of the President of the URA is to build a gigantic starship that will colonize space, starting with Coyote, an Earth-like world discovered by American astronomers. The starship Alabama and its load of approximately 100 crewmembers and passengers are readied for the history-making journey.
President Conroy does not suspect that the crew is largely made up of rebels who oppose his regime. They plan to steal the Alabama and substitute the government's hand-picked loyal colonists with "dissident intellectuals" who have been targeted or arrested by the state. Once the ship arrives on Coyote, however, political tensions among the people aboard the Alabama are far from resolved. Nevertheless, the colonists set out to build their idea of utopia on Coyote -- or at least as close to it as they can manage.
Steele's book is a mosaic of stories that follows these travails, from the plan to commandeer the starship, to the rigours of colonization, to what happens when the Earth finally catches up with them. It's a subversive grand adventure, both intelligent and emotionally involving.
Steele's descriptions of Coyote and of life there are immediate, gritty, and sensual. He combines to spectacular effect the wonder of exploration with the hardships of survival on an alien world.
The door is left wide open for more Coyote stories. And I hope that Steele will indeed further explore this exciting new world.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 15 March 2003, 10 May 2003