Saturn Run by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Strong points: Characterization and the science. We can classify this pretty easily as a realistic SF, even including the the scenes of "Meet The Aliens". It's a Go To Saturn and Come Back novel, after all. No real need for anything truly out of the ordinary. After all, the novel's strong points are in its characters.
I like Sandy and Crow. What can I say? The hooks were fantastic and strange and they just kept coming, adding some truly oddball mixes to the MCs. I never once got bored with any of the peeps.
The science, on the other hand, seemed like an old primer recapitulating on all the things we need to do a run toward Saturn. I mean, I can recall the first few novels I'd read that did this. A. C. Clarke was quite fun, after all, but after the eighth... well... there's gotta be something quite good about the novel for me to care about rehashing the same science over such a long stretch of pages. There wasn't anything wrong with it that I could tell. Nothing super obvious. Hell, to me, that's just an added bonus, especially since I read SF for the stories, not always to learn something new. Consistency is truly wonderful, but consistency can be internal or universal and still make a great tale either way. This one aimed for universal, and that's great. It can be a bit boring, to be perfectly honest, but I can appreciate it.
The characters made up for most of anything that went wrong in the novel. I truly enjoyed them. Hell, I think I enjoyed all of them. The author has a talent at writing engaging characters. What I didn't appreciate so much was the rather black/white depictions of governments and government functionaries. Sure, having a villain is good, sometimes, but turning the Chinese into such an obvious black hat and relatively incompetent to boot just stretched a lot of credulity. It's the whole culture-centric thing played relatively straight for American readers, and it's so ham-fisted that the cover artist should have added some red to the design. Then we'd all know, as prospective readers, that this was obviously a propaganda piece.
Fortunately, it also pulled off a good yarn, or at least a fairly satisfying one.
In a nutshell, when we meet the aliens, we learn that they've set up a huge chain of quick-marts across the galaxy. You know, for your shopping convenience. Gas and a hot-dog. That kind of thing. *Sigh* Oh it's better than what I make it out to be, but hell... the essentials are the same. Funny in retrospect, but also a little bit cheap. Not even a single live alien to lighten the page, just a quick-check-out line.
All in all, the good guys win, and don't we all love a great celluloid ending?
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