“Coyote Frontier” by Allen Steele – Review – Science Fiction

The circle is both broken and unbroken.

Aug 28, 2011 – “Coyote Frontier” has finally taught me what the first two books tried to impart. I should not listen to my expectations. The next book will not be about what you think it will be. For those of you who remember the ending of “Coyote Rising,” Carlos sent his sister, her lover and the Savant Castro into temporary exile in an attempt to both punish and save them, much like what he did to himself in the original “Coyote.” This left what seemed to me to be the perfect set up for an adventurous, character and conflict filled third book focusing on the trio’s exploration of a wild new world. Instead, “Coyote Frontier” takes place many years later. Twenty, I believe. Whatever possibilities lay in that untold story are buried.

So my big question going into this review is if it is Frontier’s fault that I am disappointed with it. – Let me be clear: Frontier isn’t a bad book. It’s a good book; it just isn’t a great book, like I consider the last two. – But back to my question; is my disappointment the book’s fault, or mine?

In the end, my conclusion is that it is primarily the book’s fault. “Coyote Rising” managed to overcome my dashed expectations for the sequel to “Coyote” by providing interesting characters and exciting action. “Coyote Frontier” stumbles in a number of respects, and while it was never enough for me to put down the book, it is disappointing when you consider what came before.

The plot of “Coyote Frontier” is split into two major threads. The first is the inevitable re-opening of communications and transport with Earth, and the conflicts that arise there, and the second, which is the study of the “Chireep” the native sentient population which is carried out by several key characters, such as Susan Montero, Hawk Thompson, Savant Castro and Johnathon Parson.

Both previous books had tense, or poignant endings that were built up from the rising action of the plot. Frontier has a sort of double ending, where the first ending is a lame resolution to the plot elements, and the second ending is interesting, but has little connection to the plot at all.

Despite this, there are many scenes in the book that are just fantastic. The first European Alliance ship to arrive on Coyote brings interesting characters that show not every person from Earth is bent on dominating the new world. Captain Anastasia Tereshkova and her crew become fascinated with Coyote, and her trip to the Barren Isle with Carlos is a great nod to the original explorations of the new world that I loved so much from the first book.

Another nod to the first book was the story of one of the men who was supposed to be an original colonist, one of the D.I.s from the first book, his surprising tale of survival and sacrifice, and his eventual creation of the wormhole technology that bridges Earth and Coyote. His meetings with his old friends and colleagues were all well done, and a chance for the readers to look back on the first book and feel nostalgic for the good-ol-days.

Pretty much all of the scenes involving the Chireep were intriguing, and the only times I got any sense of the newness and foreign nature of Coyote. That alien nature is something I always felt Steele wasn’t very good at eliciting. Of course they were also some of the most frustrating moments of the book because of Lars Thompson who makes a good villain, if extremely stereotypical. The obvious message is the importance of environmentalism, so who do you make the villain for such a message? Why a misogynist, drunken logger, of course.

Lars’ demise, however, was one of my favorite parts of the book. Not for the gruesome revenge of it, but for the complexity of emotions it lends to his son Hawk.

On the other side of the coin we see Carlos and Wendy go once more to Earth, to visit the place of their birth and fight for the political rights of their new world. The international moon base was fascinating, and very sci-fi feeling in the face of all the rugged frontier survival back on Coyote. This was a refreshing segment, and it’s a little ironic that some of the greatest sensations of exploration in the book come from re-visiting Earth and its political mires, which this far in the future is both familiar and creepily foreign, not to mention depressing.

Both of these threads come to a head in an inevitable showdown over the future of Coyote not just as a sovereign nation, but also its natural life and its status as the greatest hope for mankind. Environmental warnings are everywhere, as are warnings of the terrifying potential of humanity to forget the lessons of the past, especially when dealing with the natural world and native peoples. What makes this more interesting than the stereotype is that Steele muddies the waters into gray by showing how desperately humanity needs this new world to survive. The needs of humanity, and the needs of Coyote are in conflict.

Of course this is part of the reason why I felt like the first ending was so bland. It wraps up the conflict, puts a bow on it and considers it taken care of. It’s the plot equivalent of saying and not showing. We hear that they will take the native world and it inhabitants more into consideration. Great… now how so? We never find out. Carlos assures us with his words that the circle of humanity’s foolishness is broken. But what use is a simple assurance when so much is at stake?

But these are all plot considerations. The characters are still interesting, even if some of the new ones begin to show signs of a cardboard edging. I won’t say they aren’t believable, it’s just that we never get any real indication of any inner mental processes or turmoil in characters like Susan, who are birthed from the plot fully formed (in her case as the dedicated, unyielding environmentalist from the university) and never change.

The writing is solid and descriptive. The pacing is much better than “Coyote Rising,” and the competing plot threads are well placed to come to a head. Steele is in better format form than his last book, even if the content isn’t as enthralling.

Closing Comments:

I think I would have been more positive on the book had the ending felt less rushed. Most of my other quibbles are just that: minor quibbles. There is still a lot to like in this book. A number of scenes were very well put together that I did not mention, and it’s hard to convey the satisfaction of re-visiting Earth, or the scenes involving Castro, Parsons and visiting the Chireep. Despite all this, the most intriguing moment of the book comes at the very end, and you know what? After the last two books I’ve learned my lesson. “Coyote Frontier” is an interesting and well constructed book that ultimately left me unsatisfied.

STAR RATING: (3 Stars)

For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish or high-concept for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.

Spoiler Talk:

Of course the ending I’m talking about are the returning lost crew of the Galileo (I think that’s what it was called) and the introduction of the new expanded universe, i.e. alien civilizations. I felt like I was finally being tossed a bone I was teased with all the way back in “Coyote” when Gilis first saw what could be construed as alien life. But as I said, who’s to say the next book will follow up on that.

The Chireep storyline frustrated me so much because I kept banging my head against the desk as I watched everyone under the sun question their intelligence when the evidence is staring them right in the face. This is worst in the case of Carlos, who discovered them and their intelligence in the first place.

Carlos’ character disappointed me the most, not from a writing standpoint (deconstructing a character this way actually is pretty skillfull) but because of the way he forgot the lessons and wildness of his youth until it was almost too late.

The cave paintings scene was neat, and I loved everything about Savant Castro and Parsons finding friends in each other, as well as colleagues in the study of the Chireep.

Hawk’s murder of his own father was a dark turn I saw coming, but was still sorta surprised by. How this will play out in his future will be interesting to see (well, hopefully).

The way Barry’s true sexuality was treated was either tasteful or unnecessary and I can’t decide which. Maybe both? He was more or less a cameo in the whole thing.

Eh, I could go on about every little scene that I either liked or was disappointed by, but It means I’ll just keep dancing away from the first ending, that is when Parsons, Castro, Susan and Hawk took the Starbridge hostage.

I could tell when they first set about doing it they weren’t really sincere in blowing up the bridge, and even when the Magellan showed up I never really felt tense about the situation. We were at the very end of the book, at the end of the planned trilogy for that matter, and leaving actually important cliffhangers like an impending war with Earth would have been, while shocking, a bit disingenuous. Things were going to work out somehow. So I never felt tense.

Oh, and as I said before, the hostage-taker’s environmental cause is given lip-service for being answered, but we’re never shown that anything of substance ever happens to protect Coyote’s natural habitats or the Chireep. We’re just left with that hope.

And so I felt left hanging. After a bunch of interesting ideas floating around, and a great set up for some sort of conflict, the last book in the first trilogy ended on a whimper, with a second ending that’s full of promises, and so far I’ve been taught that these sorts of endings are just that. Promises.


4 thoughts on ““Coyote Frontier” by Allen Steele – Review – Science Fiction

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    Nice review…. I hadn’t actually heard of this author — and I’m always glad to find another worthwhile sci-fi writer (well, his earlier novels in the series).

  2. glenchen says:

    Very good and fair review. I really like Allen Steele and especially the Coyote series, but I agree that this is probably the least likeable of the three.

    Missed you at Rough Writers. We have three new members!

    • Edward Cheever says:

      Scott told me! 😀

      That’s exciting news! I plan on being there this week, and I was very disappointed I couldn’t make it last time.

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