01/10/2007. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
pub: Orbit. 383. page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-600-9.
check out website: www.orbitbooks.co.uk
Allen Steele's 'Coyote' short stories were a huge success in 'Asimov's Magazine' for a number of years and an even bigger success when the tales of settling a new planet were re-packaged for novel release. It's rare to see an SF book pop up in shops like Fopp and HMV but I've seen 'Coyote' there across the country and it deserves to be widely read.
'Spindrift' may not have the planet in its title but despite not being set there, this is a 'Coyote' book in all but name. At the end of the third book, 'Coyote Frontier', three astronauts appeared on Coyote who had been given up for dead decades before. They hinted at an incredibly interesting and mysterious experience that had led to their disappearance. This book tells that story.
In 2288, a survey of the sky finds an unidentified object outside the Solar System. The analysis of it by scientists including jailed alien expert Jared Ramirez leads the Earth to believe they may have discovered evidence of another intelligence. Ramirez, haunted by his part in a massacre on Earth ten years before, is freed to accompany the crew of the EASS Galileo on its journey to investigate the object, codenamed 'Spindrift'.
The first part of the novel is perhaps the more intriguing, following the political machinations of the incompetent captain of the ship. The far more capable second-in-command Ted Harker uncovers a plot by the captain and some of the politicians back on Earth that could get first contact with the aliens off to a terrible and violent start.
The second half covers Harker, Ramirez and pilot Emily Collins as they investigate the alien object, a hollowed out rogue moon with secrets aplenty inside. When they are cut off from the ship and their supplies start to run out, they lock themselves in the suspended animation chambers, only to awaken years later with someone unexpected.
Steele's clean, crisp writing and careful scientific invention reminds me of Clarke's 'Rendezvous With Rama'. There's a definite feel of classic Science Fiction storyline brought up-to-date with technology and science. That's no bad thing and the easy pace and good characterisation make it a pleasure to read.
Four books in Allen Steele's series is still in its stride. I personally would have preferred less of a leap of faith for the novel's big revelation about the aliens, as I was enjoying the mainly human-based story on Coyote. Having said that, once Steele chose to include intelligent alien life, he did it well. Overall, 'Spindrift' is a very solid novel but not as essential as the first couple of 'Coyote' books.
Tomas L. Martin
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