Monday, September 28, 2009

I Found Something to Nitpick

I went to Foolscap last weekend and was on a panel about the SF fan's love of nitpicking. Of course, immediately I blanked on any problems I ever had with any text, so I'm quite happy to have a bone or two to pick with Allen Steele's Coyote Horizon. Steele's Coyote books are a future history of the colonization of another planet, with hard work and danger. I've read the first one and didn't realize there were more until I saw this one on the new book shelf. It appears that I've missed a few volumes in the middle; the characters I knew are all a few decades older.

I liked the description of Coyote's society, with its frontier setting but modern technology. I enjoyed the sections with Sawyer Lee, a wilderness guide who helps find a lost group of mystics, and then helps them get lost again. He returns in a later section to describe the start of a expedition to navigate the globe; again the stress and interests of people seeking to expand their boundaries entertained me. A second thread follows Hawk Thompson, nephew of the colony leaders and paroled felon serving out his life in a boring job. As part of his sentence, he wears a monitoring device that sedates him if he ever feels strong emotion. This started out promising, but then, it became time to nitpick.

Hawk is given an ebook describing the religion of most of the non-human races in the universe. It revolutionizes his life, and he jumps parole to go teach this new and life-changing ethos. The idea is that there is no God, but that divinity resides inside every sentient being, and we should all be nice to each other because of this. This idea of a religion without a God is incredibly new and transformative, and everyone who hears it is amazed and converted, except for a few priests of the Church of the Dominion (who aren't Catholic, oh no, not at all), who are horrified and determined to burn everyone at the stake. Um, has Steele ever heard of Buddhism? Confucius? It was impossible for me to take the rest of this plot strand seriously, with everyone falling over at the idea of a moral structure without a central, Christian-like God at the center. So for me the book fell off the rails about there, and never got back on. I can swallow the wasp-thingies that give the mystics telepathy, no problem, but the idea that all of Asian moral thought (among others) has vanished from human knowledge? That I can't swallow.

I think Steele should go back to the "hard SF" stuff of his early book -- he doesn't seem to understand religion, which makes both his hero and his villain cardboard and soggy. C-

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