Coyote by Allen Steele
Review Summary: A promising novel, with some interesting ideas and characterizations, albeit with some rough spots.
The writing isn’t the best I’ve seen, and whoever was editing this edition missed quite a few typos, but overall I did really like the book. The characterization is a little rough, but shows some promise. The theft of the colonization ship, the political environment spurring the theft, and the geography and flora and fauna of the new world – all show some distinctive thought put into the world this novel is set in, all of it interesting enough to pull the reader through the rough spots.
There are rough spots. The biggest issue I had is with the characterizations – the novel starts out well, touching briefly on the various officers and a couple of the dissidents involved with the conspiracy, but unfortunately most of these characters never develop into anything more than one-dimensional people. The majority of the characters seem to be treated as throw-away parts, and are never really fully developed – even though they haven’t actually been completely dismissed from the story. There are hints through the novel, a comment here or there about what one or the other colonist is doing, that intimates full, actual lives for these people later in the novel, but they are never fully developed. The majority of the author’s time is spent on two children of the colonization, and detailing some of the colony’s experiences as it relates to them. While even these main characters are not the smoothest or most complex I have ever seen, the style with which the author approaches them is different enough for me to be intrigued. There is a slightly different flavor to the author’s characters that seems to make the story worthwhile.
A part of the plotting that bothers me is how the “bad people” tend to get themselves tidily killed off. Gunther, Carlos’s mother, Reese, David… there is actual strife in the new colony, but the potentially really dangerous people in the story are all rather quickly dispatched. The psychology of these people is touched on just enough so that they are not just stock bad guys – again, the author’s style infuses the characters with a little something different – but still, the author seems to be making his job of telling the story almost extraordinarily easy.
The lack of plans, equipment, resources and materials for building a sustainable colony is an obvious flaw, which the author addresses briefly through one of his recurring characters as an issue of the political climate the colonists have fled. Unfortunately, while I’m glad that the author realizes that his colonists appear to be extremely unprepared for their new lives, his explanation does not ring true. As a captain leading an expedition to a new world literally light years away from any assistance, I would think that Lee could, should, and would have done whatever necessary to fight for a more rational colonization plan. Certainly the political climate discouraged independent thinkers, but no government can be based entirely on extremists – there had to have been some rational thinkers in order for the government to work at all.
Speaking of the political situation, I think the author’s steps in this direction are thoughtful, though sparse. He is able to sketch a situation that is, particularly in this age of political fears, not entirely extravagant or unbelievable, and he is able to do so without spending a lot of time in the novel doing so. This isn’t to say that spending time on this wouldn’t be worthwhile, but I think he wisely chooses to focus less on the political system they are fleeing than the new world they are trying to create. Given the ending of the novel, however, I expect to learn additional information about the tyranny the colonists fled as a reflection on the new tyranny attempting to impose itself on them.
Again, a promising novel, with some interesting ideas and characterizations, albeit with some rough spots – I’m rating the novel higher on pure enjoyableness, and hope the successive novels bear this out with further plot and character development.