It’s the year 2070 and the United States is a mess. There’s civil war and, while people are suffering, the totalitarian government chooses to spend its money on a massive space program. In fact, the countdown has begun for the launch of the starship Alabama which will establish humanity’s first interstellar space colony. The “Intellectual Dissidents” who disagree with the government’s actions are rounded up for “re-education” and are never seen again, but many have been undetected and they’ve got a vast conspiracy going on. Robert E. Lee (a descendant of THE Robert E. Lee) is the captain of the Alabama and he and his crew and a group of dissidents are planning to hijack the ship and secede from the USA. This is a huge and dangerous operation. If caught, they’ll be tried for treason. Will they be able to pull it off?
Stealing Alabama is, as Allen Steele explains in the introduction, a story about the settlement of the United States in a science fiction context. Here, space is the “New World” and its new settlers are fearful, but hopeful of a better life where they’ll be free of tyranny.
I was intrigued by the premise of Stealing Alabama and I thought it was an entertaining story. Unfortunately, the plot focuses mostly on the actual logistics of the covert operation rather than philosophical discussion of why the dissidents want to leave or the immense mental and emotional consequences of realizing you’re about to abandon everything you know for something completely unknown. Allen Steele could have done so much more with this aspect of the story. Stealing Alabama is the beginning of his novel Coyote, and I’d guess that the novel more fully explores these issues, but they’re noticeably lacking here and it affects the emotional impact of the story. Still, I liked it enough that I want to read Coyote.
The setting of Stealing Alabama is, of course, Florida’s Space Coast. That’s where I grew up, so it was a joy to visit the cities, rivers, islands, causeways, and beaches I’m so familiar with. I had flashbacks when Steele describes the way that thousands of people camp out along the waterways to wait for the shuttle launch. This was one of my favorite parts of the book.
Audible Frontier’s version of this Hugo-nominated story is 3 hours long and performed by Marc Vietor who, I’m starting to believe, can do no wrong.