My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Independence Day made me think of this excellent novel (and series), since the story recalls the colonization and early development of the United States. Not that it is a retelling of American history with sci-fi elements, but there are obvious allusions to American history.
Coyote combines stories written independently by Allen Steele into a single volume that recounts the hijacking of a sleeper ship Alabama, bound for the planet Coyote, by a group of men and women seeking to escape the oppressive Republic of the United States (the suggestion here is that apparently the Republicans got exactly what they wanted, and America became a police state). Before the Republic can stop them, the Alabama is on the way, next stop: A new planet to colonize, in many ways like Earth’s Neogene period.
As I said, much of the story reads like a parallel-world recounting of the colonization of the United States, from arrival, to exploration, and including the politics that reach them all the way from Earth and threaten to undo all their work to find a place to live free and independent lives. Steele does an incredible job weaving tightly together the background of a new planet, ready to accept human visitors, but with interesting and dangerous surprises of its own. His characters, too, are masterfully fleshed out, and further influenced by the reality of life on Coyote. As a result, you don’t find yourself directly comparing characters to historical figures, nor matching up events with recorded moments on the American revolution; no, it’s more like drawing parallels with the emotions that drove the characters to work, to explore, to survive in a new world. It’s more of a deja-vu connection to American history than a literal one.
Because these stories were written at different times, some of the stories operate in a different tense, which can be jarring for some readers. The novel is a big one, and filled with dozens of major and minor characters… it’s not for nothing that the book provides a list of “dramatis personae,” mainly names and professions, and a few relationships, to give the reader something to reference when they are halfway through the book and come across a character that hasn’t been seen or heard from since the first chapter or two.
Those complexities aside, the book is a wonderful read, worth much more than the price of admission into the Coyote universe. Once you’re done, you may find yourself yearning for more; fortunately for you, Steele has followed up Coyote with Coyote Rising, Coyote Frontier, Coyote Horizon, and Coyote Destiny; plus Hex and The River Horses, which also take place in the Coyote universe.