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Coyote: A Novel of Interstellar Exploration

by Allen Steele

(Ace, $23.95, 390 pages, hardback; November 2002. UK edition: Orbit, £6.99, 546 pages, paperback, published February 2005.)

Coyote is one of that type of book that a reader waits a long time to find and then devours in a single reading, as I did. cover scanA rollicking read that steps right along, revealing good pacing and plenty of action. The characters of the ensemble cast are likable but also flawed: convincingly real as they take ultimate risks to escape an increasingly oppressive society, travel for 230 years to a distant and unknown world and freedom, and strive to make it work for them.

There is no single perspective from which the whole story unfolds, but several -- and it actually works quite well. As a result, the reader gets a well rounded look at what drives the refugees and their will to survive. Not all of them are heroes, though. There are surprises for the reader along the way, which include tragedies, deaths, births and sore growing experiences: some characters survive the ordeal, others are sacrificed, and finally some fail by their own flawed thinking and inability to adapt. Some readers will find fellow feeling with some of these incidental portrayals, in an obtuse way which is reflective of today's society. If anything, the reader will continue to think about the characters long after the covers of the book are closed.

The story is a simple one. There has been a revolution in the near future United States and the new regime is a single-party government that rounds up Dissident Intellectuals (DIs) and their families, and interns them in "humanitarian camps" to "re-educate" them. Many are never seen again. The absurdity of the Nazi-like regime is subtly underlined by the "Liberty Party" members' so-called patriotic return to wearing frock coats and crinolines. The new government bankrupts the country by building the ultimate monument to itself: a starship to colonize a new world 46 light years away. Coyote is that world. The scheduled colonists are solid Liberty Party members and families. At the last possible minute its captain and the majority of his crew hijack the ship, the URSS Alabama, and the colonists are replaced by DIs and a few unexpected tag-alongs. The tension created by the author is palpable.

The entr'acte occurs while the fugitives and crew reside in biostasis for the 230 year-long trip: a crew-member is accidentally awoken from deep sleep. Chief Communications Officer Leslie Gillis spends a lonely and poignant vigil on the swift and silent Alabama; however, his legacy and legend become a subtle and vibrant thread in the new community on Coyote.

Landfall on Coyote brings its own surprises and tragedies, and follows the usual lines of establishing colonies anywhere: food, shelter, weather, fresh water, and strange and unusual flora and fauna. The colonists are on Coyote long enough to withstand the elements and claim the planet as their own, and to confront the greatest test of all, which is ...

No, I won't spoil it for you. Read the book. It's a great story of survival and adventure, pioneering spirit and courage. Do we get a sequel?

Review by Marianne Plumridge.
See also: another review of Coyote by Claude Lalumière.

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