World building is a venerable tradition in science fiction, as is the notion of interstellar exploration and settlement. Both traditions have been somewhat out of fashion in recent years, but when writers like Alan Steele can take an old story and tell it in a new way, thereís no telling what sort of revival may be in store.
In Coyote (436 pages) the story opens in a USA which has gone horribly wrong, where something like the Patriot Act has produced an insular, fascist society which has entered the space race again only to achieve dominance. A colony ship has been prepared to take the American way of life to the stars and settle it on the moon of a† giant planet in the Ursae Majoris B system. The planet was nicknamed Bear, and its moons after other creatures. The target moon, showing signs of being able to support life, was called Coyote.
The first 90 pages of the novel read like a thriller as members of the dissident and persecuted population carry out a plot to hijack the longliner ship, the Alabama, and escape from the intolerable lives they are living on Earth. They do all this knowing they will go into hibernation for the duration of the 232 year long trip, and knowing that the long range scanning intelligence may be wrong after all.
The next section is about the trip, which is experienced by only one man, a poor unfortunate whose pod malfunctions and wakes him up. All alone, he experiences depths of despair and heights of ecstasy, finally driving himself to a kind of sanity by writing an enormous fantasy novel and decorating the shipís walls with scenes from his imagination. In an ironic twist The Chronicles of Prince Rupert - a fantasy novel - becomes the first literature of the space age.
The remaining six chapters of the first novel are told from a variety of viewpoints: standard narrative, a young womanís diary, present tense, past tense. Each part could actually stand alone as a separate short story, and yet they make a novel, somewhat like those mammoth sagas that James Michener used to give us.
We learn how the mixed group of colonists sort themselves out and resolve their differences, some of them having been marines who were taken along without a choice when the conspirators overpowered the crew. We learn how they explore the limited area of the planet they occupy, what dangers there are, how they learn to survive, and how they resolve their first internal crises. Itís very much a frontier story at this point and would have come to a comfortable conclusion at the end of the book but for the arrival of other ships from Earth.
These ships bring colonists, sent in faster ships from an America which is now as feminist/communist as it once was macho/super-capitalist. The two groups do not mesh. The first settlers feel they have a right to live in their own way under the rules and customs they have established for themselves in the years they have been alone.
The new group assumes it has priority in everything and the right to dispossess the others in the name of establishing its new world order. The original colonists decide to hightail it for virgin county, to stay out of the clutches of the Matriarch and her troops and do their best to keep the, bottled up in the original landing site.
Coyote Rising (407 pages), the second book, picks up the story there and is about the new arrivals attempting to occupy the land and subdue the first colonists, and how that does not work out for them. Our sympathies are with the first group, of course. The tale is told in much the same way as in the first book, as a collection of vignettes what could stand alone, but interlink to greater effect. Given that the leader of the first colonists is a man named Robert E. Lee, itís pretty easy to guess which part of American history Steele, a southerner himself, has decided to use as his template for this part of the Coyote saga.
There is a third novel in the set, Coyote Frontier, which I havenít been fortunate enough to locate yet, but I plan to, and I;m looking forward to reading it. By the time itís all done, this story will be about the size of one of those James Michener sagas after all.