Voyaging to Allen M. Steele’s Coyote
A stellar book about interstellar colonization
Some of my favorite science fiction stories are those focused almost entirely on exploration: traveling beyond our system, discovering new worlds, and building a new society somewhere out there in the stars. One of my go-to picks for this sort of thing is Allen M. Steele’s Coyote, which was released in 2002 and followed by two sequels, Coyote Rising, Coyote Frontier, Coyote Destiny, and several related novels.
Late in the 21st Century, the United States has become the United Republic of America, a deeply conservative and repressive nation. One of the country’s overarching programs is the creation of the planet’s first interstellar starship, the URSS Alabama. Its destination is a gas giant in the 47 Ursae Majoris system, 46 light years away, around which orbit several moons. One of them, Coyote, can support life.
Steele’s tale unfolds episodically, and in fact, it was originally published across a variety of magazines and anthologies before being “fixed-up” into a novel. In the first installment, the URA’s mission doesn’t go off as planned. Just as the ship is set to launch, the captain, Robert E. Lee, working secretly with activists resisting the URA, effectively replaces the original crew and colonists with his own group, stealing the ship from under the government’s nose.
In the next segment, one colonist is awoken early, and he lives out his life alone on the ship. It goes on like that, tracking the colonization and exploration of the moon. The colonists face a number of challenges: the unique biosphere of Coyote, surviving with limited supplies, and navigating interpersonal conflicts, before the final installment, when Earth’s past catches up to them in the form of a new starship from another brutal regime.
Coyote excels because it’s broken up into a number of episodic parts: through this method, Steele is able to tell a vast story, touching on the interpersonal politics, the exploration and the challenges of setting up a colony light years from home. We’re given the viewpoints of a range of characters that appear throughout each story, but the overarching story is greater than any one character.
Coyote Rising picks up immediately after the arrival of the newcomers, who are desperately fleeing from a totalitarian regime; unsurprisingly, they are less than thrilled to greet the moon’s existing inhabitants. This second installment proves to be a more politically driven novel, and Steele walks a fine line between two extremes: the original colonists fled a deeply conservative regime, and the second group, a leftist one. Steele’s valiant settlers embody deep-rooted American ideals, such as the freedom of speech and self-determination, and he draws on the story of the United States (for better or worse) for inspiration. The series is about more than politics, however, and the trilogy as a whole offers an excellent balance of ideas and action.
The final installment, Coyote Frontier, brings more changes for the Coyote colonists as Steele drops the episodic structure in favor of a more straightforward narrative. Earth has established a bridge to the moon, making travel back and forth far faster, but also opening up the potential for Earth to strip the moon for resources. Steele seems to take a much longer view with this final installment, reflecting on human’s collective history and coming to the conclusion that, considering how we treat Earth, we’d probably show no more reverence for a new home world.
Steele followed the trilogy with several other novels in that same general universe – Spindrift, Galaxy Blues, and Hex – each of which are more accurately classified as space opera. He also penned two additional Coyote novels, Coyote Horizon and Coyote Destiny, that pick up the story on the titular moon. There don’t appear to be any additional stories on the horizon, but Steele’s world offers plenty to consider as it is.
This review was originally published on Barnes & Noble.