Friday, January 17, 2020

Review of Coyote Horizon and Coyote Destiny by Allen Steele

Rather than review Coyote Horizon (2009) and Coyote Destiny (2010) as the separate novels they were published as, I am choosing to review them as the single story they were conceived as—an aspect highlighted by the fact the first book ends on a major event resolved by the second. (That being said, Steele does state in the intro that Destiny can be read without having read Horizon, and while he is technically correct, it’s not recommended if the reader wants to have any true connection to the characters and situations.)

Allen Steele’s Coyote series is, for the unaware, a mix of planetary adventure and social science fiction that harkens back to yesteryear sf while incorporating elements of the 21st century’s in an underrated mix of well-paced storytelling. About the human colonization of an extra-solar planet, the moon Coyote, Steele has, in five books thus far, taken the reader on a step by step journey, relaying the troubles of taming a wild land, setting up civil infrastructure, and dealing with political strife, all the while trying to balance the needs of our home planet Earth, and Earth stretched to the maximum in terms of resources, environmental pollution, wars, religious ideals, etc. Steele’s style straight-forward and steady, he has built a memorable image of the first days of a new human civilization, a story which culminated in Coyote’s recognition as an official political entity at the end of Coyote Frontier. Plenty more stories to tell, Coyote Horizon and Destiny form a single tale, or interwoven tales depending how you look at it, that defines the next stage in the evolution of the planet.

Like Coyote Frontier, Horizon and Destiny capture the wild west feel to the state of the planet’s evolution, particularly as it sits on the verge of its own “industrial revolution”—if such a thing can be used to describe the introduction of alien tech. There are sheriffs in town, but the wilds are still the wilds, and there is the occasional alien. Formal trade, taxes, civilian protocols, etc. have begun to take root, but the planet is so big, and so many discoveries are still being made, that freedom is still something fresh and exciting. A clash of old world vs new world values happening in Horizon and Destiny, not all is happily ever after on Coyote, however.

Bouncing around between Earth, Coyote, and beyond, Horizon and Destiny are told through multiple points of view. The first is Lindsey Hu, a reporter sent from Earth initially to do a piece on former president Wendy Gunther, but soon enough to cover the building of Coyote’s largest ever sailing vessel and the scientific expedition it is planned to go on. Second is Hawk Thompson. Known from previous novels for infamous reasons, the current story finds him on parole, working as a customs agent at the Coyote starport. When chance puts him in place to greet an alien diplomat, Hawk finds in his hands an object that will change the planet’s destiny. Third is Sawyer Lee. A distant relative of Captain Robert Lee, Sawyer earns his pay as a wilderness guide, leading wealthy off-worlders on trophy boid hunts. When millionaire Morgan Goldstein asks Lee to help him find a lost colleague in the wilds of Coyote, however, the guide finds even his best survival skills have not prepared him for what he is about to discover. Fourth is a young priest at Coyote’s Catholic church who finds himself in a lonely existence given the church lacks parishioners. But when the bishop from Earth visits, things get a lot more fire and brimstone. And there are several other characters with screen time, foreground and background, giving the reader a nice panoptical view to key events.

If there is any common thematic ground to Horizon and Destiny, it would certainly be religion, particularly the clash between an institutionalized, theistic religion and a non-theistic, personal philosophy. While Christianity is used in representing the former, specifically Catholicism, the latter finds Steele stretching his imagination to create a religion/philosophy/tradition that finds its roots in the East but which remains unique to the novel. Anything more spoiling matters, suffice to say the spread of its prevalence is the source of the majority of the books’ tension, even if only indirectly. Not a John Lennon-esque treatise on love and peace, Steele still retains the Coyote motif of socio-political dramas focused through individual characters’ beliefs and philosophies.

A secondary theme, but one I think is key to understanding the broader Coyote outlook is redemption. Spoiler sensitive, it’s at least fair to say several characters undergo transformations that they initially thought impossible. One or two are in the Hallmark vein, but one or two are truly human. Steele undercutting a typical science fiction (and mainstream fiction) plot device: revenge, it’s nice to see something more progressive on offer than just kill ‘em all and let the gods sort them out
I suppose the key question readers will be asking is: does the quality of the new duology hold up to the quality of the original trilogy? The answer is yes. Where Galaxy Blues and Spindrift form tangents in more ways than one, it’s quite possible to argue Destiny and Horizon are core parts of the Coyote experience given how well they extend the original trilogy in terms of storytelling, technique, character, and originality. They feel more integral than tributary, and should be thought of as key parts of the Coyote experience for anyone who enjoyed the first trilogy.

In the introduction to Destiny, Steele writes that he is penning one more tangential novel in the Coyote universe (this would become Hex), but afterwards plans to close the book on the setting (har har). True to his word, in the nearly nine years since, nothing has appeared in novel form. And it seems fair. The point at which Destiny ends feels right—no “triumphant conclusion”, rather a bittersweet scene that allows humans to continue in the vein of colonization, altered, of course, by the events of Destiny. Thus, the proper question to ask is: when will publishers be releasing a collection of the roughly twenty short stories published in the Coyote universe to date? Filling in the bits and pieces here and there of what has transpired to date, I can’t think of a better book end to the universe, in turn satisfying what Coyote readers want most: more content that doesn’t undermine the world built to date.

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