Escape from Earth – Allen Steele

Escape from EarthOur hero is a teenager who once dreamed of being an astronaut, but his life in a small town is not conducive to such dreams. His father was killed in Iraq, his mother is working two jobs and his older brother is a petty criminal. Life isn’t looking to go anywhere. Then one day he has a weird encounter…

This short story is solidly in the young adult camp. Not especially inspired but at least hits the right teen wish fulfillment note.

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Angel of Europa – Allen Steele

AngelofEuropaAfter a serious accident early in the first Jupiter expedition, Otto Danzig was put into medical hibernation to allow him to heal. Now, months later and at Jupiter, he has been woken up to investigate the possible murder of two crew members while exploring the subsurface ocean of Europa.

The nicest thing I can say about this story is that it is a a short story so at least I didn’t have to put up with it for very long. The concept and plot are fine, but the characters and cultural mores are cringe-worthy. I have accused Mr. Steele of this before, but his characters are all too often solidly middle-class American prudes from the 1950s, even if they are from other countries, eras and cultures. What is worse, characters from other cultures are caricature-like, written like sloppy stereotypes. Case in point, the antagonist in this story is a sexy French woman, and of course she acts like the American stereotype of a sexy French woman. Apart from that, it seems this story was sent to the publisher without some needed polish and revision. The whole thing isn’t nearly as tight as it could be.

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Arkwright – Allen Steele

Arkwright(Fictional) great science fiction Nathan Arkwright started his career during the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and now he is is dying. In the course of his long career and long retirement, he has seen humanity go from being optimistic and visionary, dreaming of a bright future among the stars, to altogether more introverted and seemingly lacking in outward ambition. He decides to start a foundation with the aim of sending forth humanity among the stars.

The novel is episodic, with the first part retrospective on Arkwright himself, starting way back before WWII. Here, Steele has woven Arkwright’s life into that of the science fiction at the time, including encounters with many of the luminaries of that era. The whole thing is wonderfully meta.

Further episodes are about future generations, descendants of the man himself, as they deal with challenges faced by the Arkwright Foundation while constructing and launching the starship Galactique. The last episode delves more deeply into the future.

While the message is clear (“The Future is what we make of it.”), the novel is not preachy. The starship project is epic, but Mr. Steele makes it about the people involved and their personal dramas and tribulations. The feel of the novel is reminiscent of early Clarke, with its epic scale and sense of destiny. A great read.

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V-S Day – Allen Steele

V-SDayIn this alternate history novel, Nazi Germany is building Silbervogel, Eugen Sänger‘s proposed “antipodal bomber”, in an attempt to firebomb New York during WWII. Learning about the work from spy efforts, a US team led by Robert Goddard builds a counter-weapon, an American suborbital interceptor.

For a fan of the history of astronautics, this novel is a treat. While in reality Nazi Germany focused its rocketry efforts on the A-4 rocket, better known as the V-2 ballistic missile, it is not a big stretch to imagine how efforts could have gone towards Silbervogel instead. Steele mixes real people and fictional events in a very plausible “what if?” of history.

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Apollo’s Outcasts – Allen Steele

ApolllosOutcastsJamey Barlowe is a teenager with such weak bone structure that he cannot walk unsupported. This is because he was born on the Moon. He is roused from sleep and hurriedly taken to a space launch facility along with his sisters. The Vice President of the United States has come to power due to the mysterious death of the President. As becomes apparent, she is a bit of a nut and, among other things, wants to imprison Jamey’s space scientist father due to his signing a petition regarding the space program. Jamey and one of his sisters are sent to safety on the massive Moon base Apollo, established to mine Helium-3 for power generation. And so begins Jamey’s adventure, with a looming confrontation with the United States on the horizon.

It dawned on me after a few pages that this was Young Adult fiction. After a few more pages I noticed that it was clearly inspired by Heinlein’s “juveniles”. Not a bad place to start.  The story is a not too complex bildungsroman. Jamey meets girl. Jamey’s best friend meets girl. They have to acclimatize to life on the Moon. They have military training on the Moon. The base is attacked.

It is a lightweight read even for a Young Adult novel, and despite the elaborate Moonbase setting some things kept nagging at me. Despite Steele’s effort to introduce at least some modern trappings, it seemed as if these kids were stuck with current technology and the social mores of the 1980s. Given that the novel takes place in 2097, I think it is safe to assume that there would be more advances than a Moonbase and some cell phone technology that could come on the market in 2014. I also wondered why people still listen to the radio in cars (which at least drive themselves) the way they do today, or why they have landlines. Another point was that Steele confused weight and mass in zero gravity. He might just have been trying to simplify but even Young Adult science fiction should get it right.

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Galaxy Blues – Allen Steele

This is yet another novel set in the Coyote universe. It is about a defector from the Western Hemisphere Union who makes his way to Coyote. He is then hired/drafted for a trade mission to the aliens discovered in Spindrift.

This is a lightweight tale of adventure and redemption. Very plain vanilla in concept. Competent but nothing more.

 

 

 

 

 

Spindrift – Allen Steele

Spindrift is a spinoff of the Coyote series, dealing with first contact. The ending, where the survivors of the Galileo expedition arrive in Coyote, is already predetermined, if you will, by the epilogue of Coyote Frontier and the prologue of Spindrift itself. To arrive at this conclusion, Steele sends the Galileo and its crew on a voyage to a rogue asteroid hurtling far outside the solar system. This asteroid, dubbed Spindrift, has responded to signals from a SETI search program.

The novel is quite short, and not very much happens. What is worse, it is all very predictable. The characters are taken straight from Central Casting and the spaceship scenes are unsurprising. Even the enigmatic alien artifact is filled with stock puzzles. Setting it within the Coyote backstory is a pretty neat trick if you’ve read the other books. As a standalone, however, the novel is inadequate, far too predictable and sadly formulaic. The only redeeming quality is the way Steele manages to make the reader care for the characters. I genuinely wanted to know what would happen next, and thus reading the book was not a complete loss.

Coyote Frontier (Coyote III) – Allen Steele

Book three in the Coyote series, this novel takes us once more to the colony planet Coyote. But there’s a new twist. Earth has developed a technology for instantaneous travel between stars, meaning close contact with Earth is possible once more. Coyote seems like paradise to inhabitants of Earth wracked with overcrowding and catastrophic climate change. Will the budding Coyote Federation be able to withstand the onslaught? The original colonists have grown middle aged and responsible, but now their children rebel. It is a classic dichotomy. The old and wise versus the young and energetic. Steele plays to his strength in character creation and development, making this perhaps the most enjoyable of the Coyote books.

Unlike the two previous books, this one is not a collection of previously written short stories with interlude pieces. However, Steele has still kept some of that feel. The narrative changes pace, viewpoint and even style between sections. But the episodes are less self contained than before. This effect still takes some getting used to, but it works well.

The epilogue, after the action proper has been concluded and loose ends tied up, is a bit surprising. We are left dangling after a momentous first contact. Said first contact is described in Steele’s novel Spindrift. Blatant plug? Perhaps. But it also reminds us that the story of the colony is still unfolding.

Coyote Rising (Coyote II) – Allen Steele

The sequel to Coyote, picks up where the previous one left off, thus mitigating some of my annoyance with the ending of the previous book. Coyote has been invaded by the Western Hemisphere Union, a major power on Earth, and the original colonists have to fight a guerilla war against an increasingly despotic post-socialist regime. As before, the story is episodic in nature, with the whole derived from eight short stories. This has both advantages and disadvantages. While the thing feels cobbled together, the shifting viewpoints keep things interesting, and Steele is certainly a master of the short story.

Even more than before, though, Coyote feels like Steele’s “Big Caucasian Sandbox”. I don’t think the author has given it conscious thought, but everyone seems to be Caucasian and with a North American outlook on life. It’s really quite comical. And while Steele will sometimes make a token effort at exploring cultural differences between the the older generation of original colonists and the new one, he is mainly concerned with differences in political outlook. In the end, it’s not so bad, since the theme of the story is revolution.

Coyote (Coyote I) – Allen Steele

This novel goes beyond Steele’s typical near-future, near-Earth fare and describes the creation of the first interstellar colony.

The novel has previously been published in the form of a series of short stories, and suffers from it, feeling cobbled together.

The characters are interesting and I was drawn in by the narrative. Steele readily manages to convey the sense of wonder inherent in traveling for almost two hundred and fifty years, and then arriving at an alien world.

I was disappointed with three things. The first is the apparent lack of proof reading and sloppy science. For example, on one page a pilot is gripping a stick, and on the facing page this changes into a yoke. The second is the less than perfect orbital mechanics and the lack of biological diversity on the new world, In Steele’s defense, it is clear that he is more focused on interpersonal interaction, and he pulls off this part very well. The third and last thing is the ending. I don’t have a problem with endings that leave a lot to the imagination, but this simply left you hanging. I don’t want to give it away here, but the whole last part of the book was simply too implausible and just plain annoying. With just a very little change, Steele could have written a classic.

Chronospace – Allen Steele

In this novel, UFOs are actually time traveling craft from our future. A study group goes back in time to witness the crash of the Hindenburg. “Unfortunately”, the airship lands safely. They have altered the past.

As time-travel stories go, this is a pretty good one. Steele avoids getting stuck in the scientific debate and concentrates on delivering a good yarn instead.

OceanSpace – Allen Steele

This novel is about a monster in the depths of the ocean. Somewhat stereotypically, the setting is a big underwater construction. An entertaining read but nothing memorable.

A King of Infinite Space – Allen Steele

A rich young man wakes up from cryogenic suspension. He has to work for a living now, by mopping floors.

This novel has it’s bright points, and is a pleasant read, but it doesn’t really grab the imagination. And the twist at the end left me a little annoyed.

 

Rude Astronauts – Allen Steele

This is a collection of short stories and articles. Steele’s has a journalistic style and tends to describe the actual “normal people” protagonists of an event as opposed to the powers that be. He is seldom grandiose, but his stories tend to be very crisp and relatable. The articles are from Steele’s time as a science reporter in Florida.

The Tranquillity Alternative – Allen Steele

The premise of this alternate history novel is that the USA established a permanent presence on the Moon in the 1960s, even basing nuclear missiles there. History has caught up, though, and an expedition is sent to hand over the moon base to a European corporation, as well as deactivate the missiles. A mini technothriller with some excellent good science fiction elements. Very entertaining and a real page turner.

Orbital Decay; Lunar Descent – Allen Steele

These two near future novels are about workers in Earth orbit and on the Moon respectively. Not spectacular, but solidly enjoyable, especially Lunar Descent. The authenticity of the characters is great. These are not “Roger Ramjet” astronaut heroes, but working class Joes trying to make it work.

The Emperor of Mars – Allen Steele

Jeff, a contract worker on Mars, is told that his parents, his fiance and his unborn child have died. He cannot return home for another eighteen months. He descends into a special form of insanity.

While he has written several good novels, Steele is at his best in the shorter forms, and this novelette is no exception. In fact it won the Hugo Award in its category in 2011. This story is both charming and interesting.