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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Coyote Frontier

Reviewed: August 8, 2009
By: Allan Steele
Publisher: Ace Books
382 pages, $10.99

It’s fairly common in science fiction stories for writers to take the pattern of historical events with which they are familiar and rewrite them into future histories. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series was inspired in part by Gibbon’s history of the fall of the Roman Empire, for instance. Allan Steele has done something similar in his Coyote trilogy, crafting a saga that echoes the settlement of North America by European settlers.

Coyote Frontier continues the story begun in Coyote and Coyote Rising., reviewed here a year or so ago. In the first volume we learned of a band of dissidents who hijacked an interstellar colonization ship in order to escape a repressive theocracy ruling an America not too far in our future. Most of the passengers spend the trip, which takes centuries, in suspended animation, awakening to find themselves close to their destination. They land and work their way through the formation of a new society.

In the second book, they are pursued to their new home by a second ship from an America now under the control of a matriarchal collectivist society, which attempts to impose its rule by force on what it sees as a misguided colony. As the title suggests, this volume is about rebellion, but it’s also about further growth.

So far we have seen books that clearly parallel the experiences which led to the formation of the United States. Volume three moves beyond this reinterpretation of history and deals with some other themes.

We are just a generation from the time of settlement when another ship arrives, this one bearing a man who was once a dissident scientist, a brilliant man whose work holds the key to making space travel faster. With the assistance of less coercive governments on Earth, he has created a working starbridge, a means of creating artificial wormholes that make interstellar travel almost instant. After 13 years of TV programs featuring a stargate, the concept should be familiar.

This breakthrough means that trade and cultural interchange can take place between the home planet and the colony, but that very possibility is fraught with difficulties and potential dangers, as we shall see.

As before, Steele does not present us with one single story, but with nine, told from various points of view and of various lengths. Interestingly, Asimov did the same thing when he wrote his series back in the 1940s. It’s a technique that allows for multiple viewpoints and the telling of little stories that enhance the main narrative arc.

A prologue provides the framework within which the rest of the stories are presented. The first story juxtaposes the arrival of the ship at Coyote with the backstory of how the bridge came to be created. The second tells the tale of a crew member who jumped ship and ran off into the woods as soon as he could, seeking the freedom he had never found at home. The third continues the tale of the interaction between the Coyote colonists and the indigenous inhabitants of the planet, an ape-like species of creatures that have a sort of culture and language and are beginning to resist human encroachment in their forests.

The starbridge makes it possible, indeed, essential, that a small contingent from Coyote return to Earth to negotiate the exact nature of the relationship between mother planet and colony. This provides us with a commentary in the future of a climate changed world, and a hint at some if the potential problems which may develop. This comes to us as an entry from the personal journal of a woman we've followed since she was a girl.

Four small vignettes trace the consequences of decisions taken during that trip, and then lead us to the confrontation which, once again, redefines the relationship between the two worlds, This drama is not, however, the final surprise awaiting the colonists or the reader. We are reminded, near the end, of events that took place during the original long journey, and a centuries old question is answered at last.

Steele has written some other books set within this basic framework, exploring the expansion of the human race and its meetings with alien beings, but the Coyote trilogy is essentially complete in itself.

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