Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
Author: John Sandford
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons; First Edition / First Printing edition (October 6, 2015)
John Sanford, of course, is a noted author with a well-established fan base and an extensive catalogue, most famously his Prey series. On the other hand, few readers know much about photographer Ctein, apparently the mind behind many of the scientific and technological details in Saturn Run. If Ctein was truly the “technical advisor” to the novel, he more than deserves his co-author status. Without question, few sci fi novels, hard as it might be to believe, come close to being this techy.
Like Caesar’s Gaul, Saturn Run unfolds in three parts. In part one set in 2066, the apparently spoiled rich vet with PTSD, Sandy Darlington, accidently discovers an alien spaceship is hovering around Saturn. In short order, the competing governments of China and the U.S. hastily build their own spaceships to race to the aliens who, presumably, will give the winning country technology that would give them preeminence back on earth. In the early chapters, we’re introduced to many of the characters who will join the crew of the spaceship Richard M. Nixon, a name the authors chose as they thought it funny. There’s Crow the suspicious security chief and John Clover the anthropologist who won’t go unless he can take his cat. There’s Dr. Becca Johansson, the plump engineer who secretly beds Darlington. Captain Naomi Fang-Castro is the very embodiment of what a commander should be who is caught between political pressures and on-ship realities. The alluring Cassandra Fiorella is the reporter who transforms scientific verbiage into layman’s terms for the taxpayers back home while the ship’s crew engages in high-stakes wagering on what date will mark the expected first consummation of a Fiorella/Darlington coupling. For many readers, all this set-up may be the most entertaining section of the book.
The longest stretch is part two, the cruise to Saturn on U.S. spaceship Nixon. Here’s where the lengthy techy sections give the book much of its believability. Readers might well be drawn into the very companionable and calm ride around the solar system. But very little happens dramatically. We do learn tidbits about the voyagers as we go along, and, occasionally, Sanford pops in his trademark humorous dialogue to break up the exposition. But you’re likely to wonder—is anything at all going to happen? Like the crew, is your biggest question when will Fiorella and Darlington get around to doing something neither is interested in doing?
Finally, the Nixon and the Chinese meet the aliens, sort of. Here’s where we get all the action and 99% of the conflict, naturally between the national interests of the earthlings and not a human/alien duel. The trip home is far shorter and far more eventful than getting there. Can governments put aside their single-minded desires for the benefit of all humanity? Was it all worth the trouble? Your call.
Saturn Run opens with a premise with promise and offers no lack of serious science to paint one of the most realistic First Contact novels you’ll ever read, at least until part three. Many of the characters are engaging and likeable. Others seem tossed in the mix for color but add little in the way of driving the plot. In other words, there’s no lack of enticing ingredients in Saturn Run, but the porridge is sometimes too cold, sometimes too hot. Mostly, it’s just lukewarm.