Allen Steele has the dubious gift of writing novels that read like short stories or perhaps short stories that have been padded until they turn into novels. On close inspection Spindrift might pass for a novella rather than a novel, padded with minute details of the trip and the explorations of Commander Harker, pilot Emily Collins and traitor and prisoner and all around genius when it comes to aliens, Jared Ramirez.
From the start Spindrift whomps you with a whole lot of background, virtually none of which is elucidated as Allen Steels apparently is writing for people who have read his Coyote novels and expects you to know what’s been going on in the Coyote Universe. But stripped of background, Spindrift is the usual story about a first contact starship mission featuring a blowhard Captain, a savvy first officer, a fearful female pilot and a scientist who no one listens to but knows everything before it happens, who go off to make First Contact and encounter wise and peaceful aliens but nearly spoil it with their usual human warmongering ways.
Steele attempts to bring in some complexity with Jared Ramirez, who traded genocide for immortality in the name of ecology, but is unable to bring any kind of moral reckoning to bear on the whole thing and spends most of the novel using Ramirez as the prototypical genius that the brass won’t listen to but who turns out to be right about everything.
There’s nothing new in Spindrift, not that you should expect it from Allen Steele whose novels are basically simpler, up to date and real world repackagings of SF tropes. Spindrift is no different and like most of Steele’s novels offers no actual surprises, despite the attempt at generating mystery by setting the whole thing as a sort of flashback. If you’ve read Steele before then you know what to expect. If you haven’t, now you will.