This is good old-fashioned hard SF space exploration yarn. The first interstellar colony ship, first people on a new planet, you've read this before — colonists figuring out the climate and ecology of a new world, improvising all the things they couldn't bring from home, having fatal encounters with the native fauna, etc. Coyote
is not terribly original, but lots of people like very specific genres that make no attempt to deviate from the standard tropes - how many urban fantasies or Regency romances or mysteries truly stand out as different
from the rest? Well, that's Coyote
— you want a sci-fi novel about colonists settling another planet, you get a sci-fi novel about colonists settling another planet.
Lest I sound too lukewarm in my praise, Coyote
is quite good. The first third of the book takes place before the ship — The Alabama
— leaves Earth. It is a near-future dystopia in which a right-wing United Republic of America, a single-party police state ruled by the Liberty Party, has replaced the old USA and is now building a starship as a monument to itself, to guarantee its own immortality. What they don't know is that Captain Robert Lee is planning to steal it, and replace its loyal Liberty Party crew and colonists with freed "Dissident Intellectuals" — political prisoners.
The story of how he pulls this off is the first part of the book, and was originally published as a short story. The rest of the book hangs together pretty well as a single novel, but it's clearly a composite of several short stories stitched together into a linear narrative. This is a hard SF novel, so there is no FTL travel — the colonists travel 42 light years in cold sleep. The first complication is when some URA soldiers are trapped aboard when the ship launches, and go into hibernation with the colonists. Obviously this causes tension when they arrive at Coyote, knowing that they will never see Earth again and that the government they left behind is now history, centuries in the past, but they are still divided between loyalists and dissidents/"traitors."
There are other complications, of course, and enough interpersonal conflicts to keep things cooking along. The second half of the book becomes more of a YA adventure when a group of teenagers, for various reasons, take off with a couple of boats and decide to explore Coyote. It's a stupid, reckless, ill-fated adventure, exactly the sort of thing teenagers would do. But it demonstrates dramatic character growth in two of the young main characters, and leads into the novel's final act, when another starship arrives at Coyote.Coyote
is, perhaps, not an epic, but deserves to be regarded as a mid-level SF classic, or maybe a sci-fi "comfort read" if you will. Don't expect anything daring or unprecedented, but the writing is more than competent, the story has plenty of hooks and turns, and the characters make you care whether they'll survive. This is the first book in a series, and clearly there are loose threads left dangling, and I enjoyed it enough to put the next book on my list.