The days of the Jesse James Gang and Wagons Ho! are behind us, yet the images and mindset of the era remain firmly fixed in North American and European culture. The number of westerns in the cinema has dropped significantly and Cormac McCarthy is certainly a different brand of Louis L’Amour, yet the freedom of the west, meeting natives, the idea of a person hacking their living from the wilderness, and the unexplored reaches of a vast terrain linger through the years—its contrast with the contemporary heightened with every new highway and town built today. Exploiting this lingering sense of what the American West once went through to arrive at where it is today, Allen Steele’s 2005 Coyote Frontier, third and closing book in the original Coyote trilogy, looks at the interstellar colony dealing with Earth’s inroads onto the fertile planet.
Technology advancing to the point stargates are achieved, near instantaneous travel comes available between Earth and Coyote at the outset of Coyote Frontier. Looking to barter the technology the colonists are sorely lacking for living space for the huddled billions on Earth, a European Alliance delegation arrives bearing one of the devices. The sting of the revolutionary war still fresh in Carlos Montero and the other members of Coyote’s minds, they are hesitant to accept the proposal, but agree to send a delegation to Earth to negotiate. Meanwhile, in the back country of Coyote, trouble is brewing. With the colony looking to expand, resources are needed. But in the process of harvesting timber, the native Chireep cause problems. Their homes destroyed in the logging effort, they start sabotaging the flumes, in turn bringing to a head a disagreement between the environmentalists who want to protect the planet and pure capitalists who want to exploit the planet. The fight spilling over into negotiations with Earth, Coyote Frontier settles once and for all Coyote’s relationship with its mother planet and the vast terrain waiting for humanity to inhabit.
Abandoning the mosaic style of Coyote and Coyote Rising, Coyote Frontier is written in more standard, storytelling format. Shifting back and forth between character and plot lines and progressing linearly, Frontier weaves in and out as needed to fill in the larger picture while continually moving the smaller pieces forward. Bill Parsons is a starship captain from the European envoy who, once seeing the verdure and wide open spaces of Coyote, abandons ship and heads out into the wilderness to start a new life. Hawk, son of Lars Thompson, is at a loss for direction, but is at least smart enough to know the boozing, womanizing life of his father is not the way. Susan, Carlos and Wendy’s daughter, is studying to be an anthropologist, and when her research takes her into the wilds and the logging operations there, she learns first hand the effects of the lumberjacks on native life. Emboldening (Jedediah!) a new mission in her life, her beliefs eventually take her to the cusp of a new reality for the planet.
Environmentalism, respect for life, the value of diplomacy, free market capitalism, inter-cultural relations, and overpopulation are just some of the ideas Coyote Frontier is comprised of. Ultimately a test of humanity’s ability to overlook its differences and let its past be water under the bridge, the ending has a strong Arthur C. Clarke sentiment, and despite the novels in the Coyote universe Steele would later pen, provides a sense of closure. Interestingly, readers looking for a pro-liberal agenda, or conversely, a neosocialist agenda, will be disappointed. Perhaps utopian, Steele nevertheless shoots the gap between the two political extremes to focus on what humanity needs most of all: compassion and understanding if it is ever to overcome its tendencies toward war and self-destruction. Simplistic, sometimes; important, always.
In the end, Coyote Frontier closes out the Coyote trilogy in solid form. Though things are changed up stylistically, the next logical stage in the colonists social and political development is achieved. Semi-utopian, Steele presents a truth humanity on Earth must likewise learn to deal with if they are ever to think of the future in optimistically. With echoes of Ursula Le Guin, the final pronouncement of Coyote trilogy is nevertheless the more mainstream cousin of the Mars trilogy. Steele’s story possesses relevant sentiment, but does not go into the same level of detail as Kim Stanley Robinson’s.