REVIEW: “Barren Isle” by Allen M. Steele

Review of Allen M. Steele, “Barren Isle”, Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February (2018): 130-146 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

A team of Corps of Exploration soliders are tasked with a search and rescue operation on the Barren Isle – a remote location on the planet Coyote inhabited by often dangerous native tribes and members of a fanatical religious cult. The team’s mission is to find and retrieve two children who are believed to have made their way to the Barren Isle while running away from New Salem and the Book and Candle cult.

This is a pretty fun military scifi short. The team have good banter and personalities. The setting and stakes are drawn up fast, mostly through conversation with a few necessary blocks of historical information and context.

I found the The Book and Candle and Fletcher a bit two-dimensional as villains, though, and the protagonists were straight-up ‘good guys’ saving misguided people back to where they belonged. It was a bit simplistic in morality and character depth for my tastes. I also never felt that the danger was particularly real – our heroes never seemed challenged or threatened, which I found undermined the stakes. On the whole, however, this story delivered what it said it would on the tin and came to a neat conclusion.