Here's a good test of the interesting sci-fi sub-genre called
"fill-ins" --- which deserve a whole lot more respect than they
usually receive. If you've never read anything by the author before
and you're still there around page 63, about to turn to page 64 to
see what might happen, then the author probably has gotten the
This is certainly the case with Allen Steele's SPINDRIFT, which
goes behind the scenes of his bestselling Coyote trilogy to
build a strong, adrenalin-driven tale out of a future-history
footnote --- in this case, the disappearance of the Galileo, a
state-of-the-art starship, on its maiden voyage in the late 23rd
century. The decades between the ship's fatal loss and the return
of a small group of survivors, unmarked by age, become an obsessive
mystery for bureaucrats on Earth.
Steele's plot elements are creatively spun from tried-and-true
sci-fi ingredients, like aliens and alien objects (friend? foe?
both?), character dynamics (the expert loner, the lovelorn, the
naïve newbie, the idiot authority figure), the uncertainties
of a hostile environment, wrinkles in time, strange surprises, the
quest for meaning, and so on. But he takes these reliable tools and
devices seriously and shows his writer's craft in giving them
random touches of greatness. You don't need to know the
Coyote trilogy at all to be captured by the distinct human
and alien personalities that connect and conflict in
Even the book's title --- an informal name given by Earthlings to a
mysterious orbed ship that Galileo is sent to reconnoitre --- shows
Steele playing skilfully with symbols and associations. On Earth,
"spindrift" is the frothy spume driven from cresting sea waves; in
deep space the alien object of the same name is anything but
fragile or ephemeral.
SPINDRIFT may be a fill-in, but it is worthy mortar in the monument
of Steele's great future-history epic about daring deep space
exploration and world-building.
Reviewed by Pauline Finch (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 23, 2011