Coyote, Allen Steele’s 2002 novel describing humanity’s first attempt at colonizing the stars, was a solidly written story of planetary exploration. Mankind’s first steps awkward and uncertain on the new world, the narrative unfolded in terms of discovery and adaptation. It also ended on a major surprise: the Collectivists on Earth had arrived to implement socialism on the desperately libertarian people who remained alive. Working with the idea humanity has settled Coyote to the point day-to-day survival is ensured, the follow-up, Coyote Rising (2004), unfolds in terms of the political interplay between the two groups: the original colonists, headed by Robert E. Lee, and the Collectivists who landed after, lead by the imperious Louisa Hernandez. Fireworks literally and figuratively closing the show, it’s an equally enjoyable if not more cohesive novel than Coyote that takes the freshly colonized planet to its next cycle of human existence.
Using the same narrative style as Coyote, Coyote Rising is, to its benefit, a series of short stories, novelettes, and novellas conjoined at plot to tell the story of the first colonizers fight against the oppression of the second wave. Starting small with the story of a middle-aged woman newly arrived on Coyote who must eke out existence on the outskirts of a dirty, fragmented society, afterwards minor events and seemingly small scale happenings escalate the situation on the planet to the point both sides end up in open war—the penultimate story a politically simplistic yet gripping telling of Coyote’s socio-political fate that features viewpoints representing all sides of the overarching story. It pays off nicely. Almost Keith Roberts-esque in his vectoring of these stories toward the underlying plot, Steele shows superb narrative control, allowing the character details, setting, and plot of each story to be individual yet ultimately focused on larger issues at stake on the planet, culminating in a satisfying conclusion.
Sustaining a wild-west/frontier feel, among the individual stories of Coyote Rising are a showdown at a river ferry, the construction of a bridge which has much deeper political implications than its simple wood and stone design would seem to allow, and the plight of a cybernetic man with a bizarre cult following who harbors a dark secret. Playing out the suspense nicely of each story, the reader knows the shoe will drop, but when and how forever hovers just beyond prescience—much to Steele’s credit.
Where Coyote was reeled out in linear, episodic fashion, no clear end goal, the joy found in discovery, Coyote Rising takes a different approach. Steele indirectly setting up a revolution in the opening chapter, as the pages turn, the stakes get larger and larger until the entirety of the colony is caught up in the proceedings, the fate of humanity on Coyote stuck in limbo. Steele works toward this known goal in interest-building fashion. Offering change of pace,it also provides a welcome sense of variety to the standard planetary revolution novel.
In the end, Coyote Rising is a good, quality follow up to Coyote, and in some sense is a more satisfying effort given the story setup it has by comparison; where Coyote offered stories of varying condition, Coyote Rising offers stories of more consistent, escalating quality. That the story is told from a revolving set of interesting viewpoints that catalyze the underlying plot yet keeps things varied, in turn making for a more enjoyable book. Rather than a single stream, there are multiple streams, all flowing to create a course that seems broader and more colorful to the eye. Classic science fiction fare, it tells of communist vs. democratic/libertarian ideals in simple terms—but in engaging terms from an entertainment, storytelling perspective. Steele will not be winning any awards for examining the cultural issues surrounding the politics, but what he does present is realistic and believable enough, and as such the Coyote series remains an unrecognized but worthy addition to the space opera field.