What if we spotted an anomaly in the vicinity of Saturn that could only be an alien starship? Most books that think about Little Green Men, or LGM, as they’re usually referred to in Saturn Run, approach it from a first contact perspective, with a heavy influence from the history of first contact among humans during the Age of Exploration. Saturn Run takes a different tact. It’s hard science fiction that recognizes the existence of aliens, but is almost entirely concerned with the Earth politics and the technological challenges of reaching orbit around Saturn.
Sandy, or Sanders Heacock Darlington, is a screw-up and trust fund baby. But he has a minor job at a major observatory and just happens to be the person to spot the alien starship. You see, we know it must be a starship because it is decelerating. The United States immediately springs into action to get a ship to Saturn. The ship doesn’t stick around, as it turns out, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in where it went, and why. And China, as it turns out, is very interested in where we’re going, and why. A new space race ensues, one that doesn’t end when lift-off.
Sandford writes thrillers, and it shows. That is, he does well the things you would expect a writer of thrillers to do well. He also handles the science behind the fiction well, both explaining it semi-coherently for a rube like me, and explaining it without robbing the story of narrative momentum.
Saturn Run is story, not character driven. The characters aren’t flat, per se, but the book shows little interest in them except as a means to the plot ends. Curiously enough, the best characters are the President of the United States, who steals every scene she’s in, and Crow, her enigmatic security liaison for the project and on the ship.
All in all, Saturn Run is a very effective and fun mix of thriller and hard sci-fi.
Disclosure: I received an advance copy of Saturn Run through NetGalley.