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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
Coyote Rising

by Allen Steele

(Ace, $23.95, 382 pages, hardcover; published in December 2004. UK edition: Orbit, £6.99, 510 pages, paperback, published July 2005.)

cover scanAllen Steele's Coyote Rising, a sequel to 2002's Coyote, bills itself "a novel of interstellar revolution." Indeed, at the conclusion of Coyote, the libertarian colonists -- who had travelled through space to escape a right-wing totalitarian regime -- find their new homeland invaded by a second wave of colonists from Earth, this time the representatives of a regime of socialist totalitarianism, backed with military might. Our intrepid band of freedom seekers just can't escape the despots, of whatever stripe.

Told in a series of episodes, this new novel shows the libertarian revolution slowly building momentum until tensions between the two groups explode violently.

Coyote Rising is a rousing read. Steele can really spin a good yarn, and he has a true feel for adventure. Among his colourful and engaging cast there are die-hard revolutionaries, a genetically modified self-appointed messiah, and fascinating misfits of all kinds. Coyote itself, the planet-like satellite where the action unfolds, is a splendid creation, a huge world filled with wonders, terrors, and surprises -- including an elusive indigenous society.

Alas, especially for a novel built around political conflict, the politics in Coyote Rising are overly simplified. The level of the novel's political dialogue is often trite, presented as a shelf-worn good vs. evil dichotomy.

It's hard not to compare the Coyote series with Kim Stanley Robinson's award-winning Mars Trilogy, another blatantly political saga of planetary colonization. But Robinson's political canvas was vast, and his characters' political lives rich and profound, which made every action resonate deeply.

There are several parallels to be found between the two epics, but Steele's transparent and uncritical championing of libertarianism reduces the impact of his otherwise gripping story.

The novel's conclusion hints at a third volume, and, despite my reservations about Steele's simplistic polemics, I'm still eager to revisit Coyote.

Originally published, in slightly different form, in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 12 February 2005.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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