Birthday Review: Stories of Allen M. Steele
Today is Allen Steele's birthday. I've read a good many of Steele's novels and shorter work over the past few decades, generally with enjoyment though not rapture: Steele is a very traditional SF writer, reworking fairly familiar tropes. But he does so effectively, and if his stories seem a bit old hat that do entertain. (Allen lived not far from me, in the St. Louis area, for a while but I never met him them -- he's moved back east and I did meet him at a couple of Boskones.)
Here's a set of my reviews of his work from my Locus column:
Locus, February 2002
The cover story for Feburary's Asimov's is the latest of Allen M. Steele's "Coyote" tales, a series about the successful hijacking of a colonization starship to the planet called Coyote, and the subsequent struggles to establish a colony. These stories are truly old-fashioned in some central assumptions: the habitability of Coyote is blithely accepted, and there is little concern for disrupting an alien ecology. Somewhat old-fashioned, too, is the straightforward conflict resolution nature of the stories -- the conflicts often arising from the rather black and white division of the original colonists into heroic freedom-loving hijackers, and militaristic authoritarian loyalists. So my reading of these pieces is colored by a certain lack of belief in the basic situation -- but getting past that, they have been a reliably entertaining several stories. This latest is "Across the Eastern Divide": several teenagers, bored with life in the colony, illegally take a couple of canoes and some supplies and venture on a dangerous journey downriver, across the Eastern Divide, to the Equatorial River. The trip forces the illicitly pregnant narrator to confront her relationships with her baby's father, with another boy, and with her adoptive mother. The trip also forces all the participants into much greater danger than they had anticipated. There is nothing much new or special here, but it is an enjoyable adventure story.
Locus, December 2002
Allen Steele continues his Coyote series with "Glorious Destiny". Steele is an effective adventure writer, fun to read, and this story doesn't disappoint. The struggling but apparently succeeding colony on the world Coyote now faces a new crisis – the arrival of another spaceship from Earth. The exact nature of the crisis, and Steele's solution, are a bit unexpected and nicely handled. This isn't a classic, but it is fast-moving and exciting.
Locus, August 2003
Allen M. Steele's latest Coyote story is "Benjamin the Unbeliever" (Asimov's, August), about a religious cult centered around a surgically altered man. They come to Coyote, and the title character, looking for a job and attracted to a cute young woman in the cult, helps them out. He ends up guiding them on a dangerous journey into the unexplored wilderness, with tragic results. Steele tells a good story as always, though this isn't one of the best Coyote pieces.
Locus, April 2007
I’ll also mention the two novellas in the April-May Asimov's, both by familiar names, both pretty good. Allen Steele’s “The River Horses” is a Coyote story, in which Marie Montero and Lars Thompson, heroes of the revolution who have not adjusted well to peacetime life, are sent into exile to, in the Heinlein story model terms, “learn better”. The savant Manuel Castro accompanies them – for reasons of his own that we soon guess. The story has a familiar shape, and nowhere does it surprise, but it is well-executed and exciting.
Locus, September 2010
At the October Analog, I enjoyed Allen M. Steele’s “The Great Galactic Ghoul”. This fits a familiar Analog form: it’s a tale of asteroid mining, a disaster, and a rescue effort. What lifts it above the ordinary is its matter of fact, almost journalistic, telling, and its bleakly honest resolution to the mystery of the disaster (along with a sort of metastory of war and politics lingering in the background).
Locus, November 2014
Another enjoyable read that comes a bit short of full satisfaction is Allen M. Steele's “The Prodigal Son” (Asimov's, October-November), a sequel to his earlier “The Legion of Tomorrow”, about a group of SF professionals who set up a foundation to develop a starship. Here the disaffected great-great-grandson of the SF writer involved is sent to the island in the Caribbean where the starship parts are being built. The rather predictable plot has his cynicism overcome by a combination of satisfaction in his work for the first time in his life, along with of course the love of a good woman … so, it's a bit on the hackneyed side but it's well-executed and enjoyable reading anyway.
Locus, January 2015
Allen Steele continues his series of stories about an SF writer's legacy in “The Long Wait” (Asimov's, January), now revealed as the penultimate chapter of (as was already clear) an episodic novel. This is told by the daughter of the lead couple in the previous story. Her life is significantly devoted, not entirely by her will, to monitoring the progress of the starship launched in the previous story, while things fall apart at home, both locally (her mother never really recovers from the events of the previous story, and her father becomes an alcoholic) and globally (the Earth is threatened by an asteroid.) This is another story that treads quite familiar ground for SF readers, but it does so expertly: it never surprises, but it's a solid enjoyable read.
Locus, June 2015
“The Children of Gal” is the final installment of Allen Steele’s forthcoming Arkwright, which will be an expanded version of four Asimov’s stories which have followed the story of the building and then journey of Earth’s first starship. Here we see the state of the colonies established on Eos, in particular one isolated city which has established a somewhat repressive religion after a weather-related catastrophe. Sanjay is a young man whose mother has been banished for heresy, for claiming to see lights in the sky near Gal, their god. The arc of the story is easily enough guessed: Sanjay will eventually find a way to solve the mystery of the lights, and learn the true nature of Gal and his world. None of this surprises, but Steele handles the familiar material expertly, ringing a couple of nice changes on it, and the story is a good read throughout.
Locus, December 2019
I find that in the last 2019 issue of Asimov’s I enjoyed several stories by, well, men of roughly my age, let’s just say. Allen Steele’s latest tale of the human settlement on the planet Tawcety, and their fraught relationship with the doglike rulers of the planet is “Escape from Sanctuary”. Crowe and his young friend Philip are in jail … but before long they’re freed, and soon after are in the hands of an outlaw gang, looking for a way to reunite Philip with his wife – which may end up taking them off Sanctuary, the only place humans are allowed. Fun and fast-moving adventure.