In many ways, John Sandford and Ctein’s novel Saturn Run is a throwback to the golden age of science fiction written by the likes of Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and many others. It takes us on a space journey full of hope and fears, where a group of Americans (think Andromeda Strain) travel to Saturn where it seems aliens of some sort have created something there. Sandford, known mostly for his mystery/thriller Prey series and Ctein (apparently his real name), an expert in photographic printing with degrees in English and psychics from Caltech, have created a believable novel about First Contact. By using real science, real technology that is –as noted in afterword- extrapolated as realistically as possible by setting some five decades into our future, we get a taught thriller, political agendas, and a wide, diverse group of people.
“The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do. A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out. The race is on, and a remarkable adventure begins.”
Of course, back in that golden age of science fiction, most of the villains were Russian. Here in Saturn Run, they’re the Chinese. Yet they’re not the mustache villains of old, though Sandford and Ctein still manage to make them a bit of a stereotype. I mean the book is directed at the U.S. market (and to fans of Sandford), so it’s not a huge surprise they did this. As a matter of fact, if a movie is made of this (which seems to be probable) I could see the Chinese changing the ending (just like there are two endings to the classic Godzilla vs King Kong). Also, there is no military on the Richard M. Nixon (a very clever joke), so we don’t get any crazy soldiers dictating U.S. military policy –which is rather refreshing.
In many ways, this book also reminded me of The Martian, which was a how-to-novel about how a man could survive on Mars before he’s rescued. Saturn Run, with Sandford’s gift of pacing and Ctein’s science knowledge, does the same here, except on how a manned mission to Saturn can be accomplished in a short period of time. Neither Sandford or Ctein have Andy Weir’s knack for boiling the complex math and science needed down into everyday, non-science geek speak (it gets a bit prosaic at times), but there is a grand, epic adventure here, one that (in the right hands) could become a great movie –or at least, a 10 episode TV series.