Galaxy Blues

by Allen M. Steele

Publisher: Dell Magazines
Copyright: 2007, 2008
Format: Serial
Pages: 175

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Galaxy Blues is set in Steele's Coyote universe after the original trilogy (which starts with Coyote), but other than visiting Coyote in the novel and referring to some of its ruling cast, it stands alone. I read this novel via its serialization in Asimov's Science Fiction; the published book may be slightly different. I should also warn that since it was a magazine serialization, I gave it somewhat less attention than I would normally give a novel (from which it probably benefitted).

Jules Truffaut has been kicked out of the Western Hemisphere Union military and is trying to defect to the independent planet of Coyote when the story starts. He uses tricks, false identities, and some skill as a shuttle and drone pilot to make it as far as the planet, but that doesn't mean that they want him, appreciate his dramatic tactics, or are going to recognize his request for political asylum. When a rich owner of a shipping company offers him a job, he has little choice but to accept. That leads to alien encounters and a job that's far more dangerous than he expects.

Based on his previous short story work, I'm not much of a fan of Steele or of his Coyote universe, so I wasn't a sympathetic reader for this novel. Coyote comes across as a colony world in the old SF style, meaning wide open spaces, small-town politics, and a chance for the author to play with theories of governance. I have little patience with models of colonization that look like idealized versions of the settling of America, with the impact of the slave trade ignored entirely and the natives edited out so that there's no genocide to feel guilty about. It's like the 20th century never happened.

Thankfully, we're only subjected to a bit of this before the action moves elsewhere, and neither the planet nor the governance of Coyote are the point of this story. I'm not quite sure what the point is, beyond proving that mankind can hold its own with aliens and setting up a nice hard-SF concluding set piece that provides the only real tension of the book. It's a space adventure without much originality.

As a first-person narrator, Jules is adequate, but tends to alternate between mildly narcissistic self-justification and overly-precise descriptions of the machinery of space travel. It's Jules against the world for the whole story, making it difficult to engage with any of the other characters, and Jules himself isn't likeable enough or compelling enough to carry the story alone. The best stab at a supporting character is Rain, the obvious awkward love interest. Steele gets some points for avoiding love at first sight and writing in some realistic but rarely-seen caution and reluctance, but the course of the romantic subplot is still predictable. The rest of the cast are stage props: characters with single identifying features (the xenophobe, the old engineer, the pilot, the telepath) who exist only to move the plot around.

In summary, this story is mostly a loss. The best part is the climax, which is a long time coming (and requires wading through some entirely unbelievable aliens) but which delivers on both suspense and effectiveness of description. I managed to care about Jules and Rain enough to want to know what happens to them, helped by pacing that never drags the story down. If the rest of the story were at the level of the climax, this would be a decent hard-SF adventure story with a romantic sub-plot that's better than a lot of that genre. As is, there are too many unbelievable aliens, too much clunky description and poor characterization, and too much Campbell-style human boosterism in the conclusion.

It kept me mildly entertained while walking on a treadmill, but there's no way I'd pay novel price for it.

I reviewed each segment of the serialization as I read it; if you're curious, here are the reviews of parts one, two, three, and four.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-03-04

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21