galaxy blues by Allen Steele
There are times when life as described on the pages of novels is just too damned convenient. I know fortuitous accidents often do make their contributions to the real world, but it has become a somewhat tiresome cliché to point them out. Luck does not sit comfortably alongside the need to present yourself to the world as a competent planner. Although there is no doubt we do all need a little luck sometimes, it should never do more than add to the expected success. Building a plan around the need for luck is a recipe for disaster.
So, in galaxy blues by Allen Steele, we’re back in the Coyote universe with a manifestly successful businessman who is planning what he hopes will be his greatest business coup. He has a ship and all but one crew member. And wouldn’t you know it, one just happens to drop into his lap. Worse, he is a turncoat and may have betrayed his brother so perhaps shouldn’t even get on to the shortlist.
But, hey, we need to get this particular set of people on the ship for this story to work so less of the carping.
Have you noticed how the two leading characters who are going to end up together often seem to hate each other at first sight?
But there are compensations. It’s a mildly amusing twist on the trade goods for natives (usually worthless geegaws) that the ship is full of top grade cannabis. As good a case for the legalisation of this “herb” as I’ve seen for a while. That the natives are also running a scam is somewhat thrown away. Although the politics a inter-species trade is perhaps slightly less exciting than the space travel to get there, there is more to be made of the philosophical factionalism of the aliens that is dreamt of in this author’s heaven and earth.
Nevertheless, the opening section of the book is diverting and Steele is a readable author so I’m well past the halfway line before I start to lose interest. Now you have to see this vastly superior set of aliens. They have high technology coming out of their ears and any other orifices available. They’ve been aware of this approaching black hole for yonks (that’s a really long time for those of you who don’t speak Brit). Their top scientific brains have been collecting data, trying to devise a way of stopping it. So they lay this silly trap to recruit these technologically challenged Earthlings to go and plant a recording device in the back hole’s path.
Any self-respecting alien with an abacus would have known decades ago where this black hole was going to hit next. The affected planetary system has been evacuating its citizens for some time. Anyone could have gone to a suitable planet or moon and left a recording device without the slightest risk. But, for the purpose of this story, this ship of con artists from earth are shanghaied to do it when they could all be killed. Even more ironic is that the aliens were convinced the earthlings would wreck their experiment by simply throwing the device out of the ship and making a run for it to save their skins. We earthlings impressed the shit out of these aliens (assuming they do produce shit, of course) by actually doing the job properly and almost getting killed in the process.
It’s completely brainless and lacks any kind of page-turning tension. From the outset, we all know that the earthlings will be successful and get back to Earth (or Coyote as the case may be). So the whole book stumbles vacantly to an end and we wonder why we bothered to keep reading. The nice asides like the telepathy merchant who stays drunk to avoid the misery of having to hear his fellow earthlings’ thoughts and the thematic rerun of Pierson’s Puppeteers from Larry Niven’s universe cannot prevent the work from failing retain interest after the halfway mark.
Jacket artwork by John Harris.