Clarke County, Space Paperback – 7 Mar 1991
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The Church of Elvis provides a lot of the fun - but so does Blind Boy Grunt. Even the more serious characters have their moments of fun. Police chief Bigthorn, of Native American ancestry, has a sense of humor, even when he's being almost blown up. We also have some villains we can enjoy - heartless lawyers representing soulless corporations, that sort of thing, that we can unabashedly revile. A hired killer code-named the Golem, complete with an explanation of the original Golem and some scary insight into the assassin's psychology.
The only disappointment in the book is the very end - involving Simon McCoy. I thought this particular bit of explanation to be rather out-of-nowhere and arbitrary. Works as a plot device, but not as a plot or a character, in my opinion. However, it's quite possible to just ignore that part.
If what you know of Allen Steele is his more recent Coyote series, you will find this book to be both similar and different. There's some of the same questions of exactly what constitutes patriotism, and when is it correct to decide that one's patriotism should be devoted to creating a new country. There are also the same Heinleinian issues of figuring out what it takes to be self-sufficient, and how big a political/geographical entity do you need to have to be self-sufficient. (Steele poses these questions in the spirit of Heinlein, but the answers to these questions are not the same as Heinlein's.) There is more humor in this book than in the Coyote series, rather less time spent on assorted military preparations.
All in all, while not a complete masterpiece - it's a little too lightweight for that - it is a worthwhile, fun, read, and gets five stars for being accessible, funny, not as politically strident as some books in the same vein, and having lots of in-jokes for science fiction fans.
Bighorn has his own problems, fortold by his sweat lodge vision of Coyote, who indicated a threat from the stars. Coyote is a trickster who lies like a politician, but there's always some truth at the basis of what he says, and this time is no different.
Compared to Robert Heinlein, this story does definitely do the trick although it lacks Heinlein's humor. That may be a good thing for a lot of readers but I was always a sucker for Heinlein's light touch, however grim proceedings got.
But the rest of the style seems to be there...big scope, focus on the people in jeopardy, a great setting, and a lot of action.
Clarke County is an L5 habitat. They were first proposed by Gerard K. O'Neill back in the 1970's or so, gigantic 20-mile-long inhabited rolling tubes, in permanent space orbit leading or following the moon. Living on the interior surface of these tubes would be people in cities and on farms, protected from cosmic rays by an adjacent barrier of lunar slag left over from the construction phase. It was a galvanizing vision providing an alternative to planets with their deep gravity wells, farmers able to look up and across the interior at a city on the opposite surface or a sailboat on a lake.
Science fiction writers cheerfully adopted the idea, offering up tales of future cities, religious communities, animal parks, even scientific preserves for resurrected dinosaurs. The public ate it up. But for the fickle public, that interest faded after several years although the keepers of the faith never forgot. Author Allen Steele is obviously one of them.
And it's too bad because central to Gerard's vision was being able to build the L5 habitats with current technology. ("Space colonies" sounds better, but it never caught on; understandbaly bad vibes from the Third World.)