Thursday, December 12, 2019

Book Reviews Reloaded: Saturn Run

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on December 15, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

Saturn Run -- John Sandford & Ctein
G.P. Putnam & Sons
496 Pages

When I first moved from the children’s section at the library, I found myself a somewhat permanent resident of the science-fiction aisles. In those days, my favorites were the hard science-fiction selections. Books by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Ben Bova mostly found their way home with me. Sadly, over the years, it seems like good, hard science-fiction has  become harder to find, while the books being published have relied more on magic and fantasy than science.

Imagine my surprise when I was hunting the new releases shelf at the library, and found what appeared to be a throwback to those great science-fiction days of my youth. A bigger surprise was that the book was shelved in the “Mystery” section. John Sandford, typically a crime writer, delivered a foray into my beloved genre. Co-written with Ctein, Saturn Run gives the readers nostalgic ideas of Rendezvous With Rama, or 2001:A Space Odyssey.

Set 50 years into the future, Saturn Run opens with an anomaly in the rings of Saturn. Further investigations by scientists determine that a deep space vessel of unknown origin has landed on a moon in the rings stayed for several months, and then disappeared back into the cosmos.

The US Government, eager to acquire whatever advanced technologies may be extant on whatever base is out there, secretly attempt to develop a deep-space mission behind the backs of the other space-faring nations. China, already planning a mission to Mars for the first manned landing on the red planet, abruptly change focus to the ringed planet.

The Americans, meanwhile, attempt to convert their space station into a deep-space vehicle. Even though China launches first, the trajectory plotted by the American scientists will give the converted ship an arrival time six weeks in advance of the Chinese. Of course, suspected sabotage delays their arrival so that each nation’s arrival came within a couple weeks.With the cushion gone, the US team must scramble to seize as much alien technology as possible. 

An overzealous Chinese crew nearly ends in disaster for both parties 800 million miles from rescue. It will take unlikely teaming between competing superpowers to ensure the safe return of all astronauts to the glorious planet earth. Along the way, the hard drives full of alien technology are supposedly lost. Was the trip across the solar system all for naught?

Sandford has taken his career of writing thrilling crime novels and neatly converted it into writing excellent science-fiction. Sure,some of the technical details may drone on, but that’s part of what makes it great. The science isn’t so far-fetched that we can’t see the end result as a possible reality.

Unlike other Sandford books, the characters in this story are a little bit weak. Cause and effect on weak personalities mean that sometimes you have to suspend disbelief. However, the aplomb with which they write the main driving force in the novel will keep you turning pages.

I almost skipped this book because of it being shelved with mysteries. Luckily for me, I had a little extra time at the library and took a look at the mysteries. The book practically jumped off the shelf at me and the pages turned themselves.

Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein is an excellent book,getting its inspiration from some of the old classics that pulled me into a life-long reader. I would love to read more books exactly like this one. Those old dreams of becoming an astronaut and exploring the universe still have a dramatic hold over me.

Craig Bacon sometimes has his head in the clouds. He could be talking to the Great Big Head.