Hex, by Allen M. Steele, is the sixth book in his Coyote series, taking place a number of years after the original novel. It’s a fast, exciting read, but one that fails to live up to expectations.
Humanity has been opened up to the stars via a network of gates and tentative connections with other races. The new Coyote Federation is now a member of an intergalactic alliance, the Talus. Their rise attracts the attention of a reclusive race called the danui, who invite them to their home world, HD 76700, where they claim to have a world for humanity to colonize. Eager at the opportunity for a new world, a ship is dispatched with an exploration crew to take a look.
Arriving at the HD76700 gate, the crew is stunned to find that there is no new world: no habitual worlds at all, but an immense structure, composed of hexagonal habitats, 1.5 AU from the star: the Tanaash-haq, or as the human explorers call it: Hex. The titular structure is a Dryson Sphere, designed to produce an almost infinite amount of living space, energy and a pinnacle of technology for whichever race builds it. The crew lands, and the true purpose of their invitation comes clear, as is the true nature and purpose of Hex.
Steele’s serialize novel, Coyote is a book that has remained one of my absolute favorite genre novels of all time: brilliant and epic in scope, with an exciting, thoughtful and relevant plot, but sacrificing none of the hard science that seems to go by the wayside in the genre. Coyote mixed space opera with solid science, and came out blazing.
The sequels, on the other hand, outside of the initial trilogy, have been lacking, and Hex, while it has some good points, doesn’t reverse that trend. It proves to be a fun, fast read, but it’s no Coyote.
There’s a lot in the background that I liked: the idea of a race building a structure such as Hex and allowing and inviting other races to colonize it strikes me as an interesting one: a universe in a metaphorical nutshell, with the potential for more. The parts of the book that go into loving detail towards these elements are ones that I really enjoyed.
There’s a lot there, though, that falters. The cast of characters are both forgettable, but also irritating. They shout at each other for little reason, are overly sarcastic with those attempting to explain what’s going on, and grudges are held for paper-thin reasons, straining the credibility of any government that assigns them to go anywhere. I kept thinking that any crew that would be tasked with any sort of first contact situation would be comprised of highly trained specialists, ones who understand that alien life isn’t like our own (and shouldn’t blindly assume otherwise), or go against instructions from a vastly technologically superior race, for example, as these characters do.
Similarly, none of the characters seem capable of learning, as one character, Sandy, accidentally gets one character killed, and almost does so on future occasions, through her own unthinking actions. A sub-plot of the captain and her estranged son feels added on as an afterthought, and is unsatisfactory and predictably resolved at the end.
What bothered me the most is the human’s propensity for charging on ahead, despite the clear indications that there’s a better way to do it, or that they’ll have major issues on their hands. Finishing the book, I found myself wishing for a very different ending, hoping that the lesson to get out of the book was to not be those characters.
Frequently, I found myself wondering if I’d picked up a copy of the novel Ringworld by mistake. There’s a number of similarities between these two books, at points with scenes that were almost identical. I can’t help but think that I’d rather just reread Larry Niven’s fantastic novel again.
At the end of the day, I didn’t hate or regret reading Hex: it proved to be a fun, fast read, but one that has a number of drawbacks, especially if one holds the precursor novels in high regard. It’s akin to a beach book, engaging but without much depth; one that seems to have missed quite a bit of potential with its premise. Of all the space opera novels to be released this year, it’s not the best, but it’s expanding a series and a universe that has a lot of good entries and with a lot of potential for the future.