Galaxy Blues by Allen Steele
Ace Books, 2008
This was an interesting book. It’s a space opera adventure that reads in a very old school way. The first person narrative, written like a memoir, combined with chapter headings that provide a summary of what will happen engender a feeling reminiscent of something out of a nineteenth century novel. The plot is simple enough as spacer Jules Truffant seeks political asylum from the Union Astronautica in the Coyote Federation. Managing to make his way to Coyote a bit of bad luck finds him in jail where he is scooped up by a corporate big whig to help in a delegation sent to open trade between humanity and the greater universe at large (i.e. aliens). Jules luck doesn’t hold long though and he, and his fellow crewmates, find themselves in a rather trying, and dangerous, situation.
The scrappy and ‘barbaric’ humanity amidst the cosmopolitan and ‘civilized’ galactic society isn’t the most original plot element, it was used in Mass Effect recently, and the relationship between humanity and the alien hjadd is very similar to that of humans and the Vorlons from Babylon 5. Familiar, but the humanity as intergalactic underdog element is still an interesting plot device that Steele uses well here. Indeed Jules final confrontation with the arrogance of the elder aliens near the novel’s conclusion is evidence of a fairly original take on the concept.
This being my first experience with Steele’s Coyote universe I found the world of Coyote fairly interesting. Steele manages to conjure an image of an old west frontier town with something out of Star Trek. We don’t spend much time there though as the novel sticks with the action moving along at a rapid fire pace emphasized by short chapters and the clipped sparse narration of Jules. Indeed given the first person perspective the novel focuses on Jules interactions and relationships with the people around him from the beutiful Rain to the enigmatic Ash. The above lends a very intimate feel to the novel and, while it takes place within the same universe as Steele’s earlier trilogy, is self-contained and comes to a satisfying conclusion that leaves things open for more, but doesn’t necessitate them with any kind of dangling plot threads.
In the end this was a solid read, though a little slow to start. Short and self-contained the novel doesn’t quite have the same ‘epic’ feel as other space operas but is, none-the-less, a rolicking adventure tale. A solid B+ recommanded for Sci-fi fans looking for a lighter read or something to suggest to their non-genre reading friends.