“Saturn Run” by John Sandford and Ctein can best be described as a thriller that takes place in space. It is obvious the authors strove to make this story realistic. Some may put it in the science fiction genre but that is only because there are real scientific concepts in a plausible fictional thriller story.
The authors said they met through a photography website, the Online Photography, and became friends. Because Sandford wanted to venture into the science fiction world he decided to consult Ctein — who has a dual degree in English and physics from Caltech. He obviously wrote the science parts and the two collaborated on the rest of the book. But Sandford wrote in the character, Fiorella, an L. A. Times reporter, to explain science to the reader as she explains it to her audience on the ground. This was a real way to say what the engineer, Captain, photographer Sandy and scientists were doing.
Portions of the book have a very detailed explanation of the technology and science used. For some who are bogged down with too much content, they can skip over those details since they are clustered together. Others will enjoy the particulars of how the spacecrafts and their engines are built. In the author’s note at the end of the book is a description of the science behind the story. This includes the authors’ philosophy regarding the science and technology, along with pertinent reference points for those who want to know more, an explanation of the actual science behind the fiction. Another way the authors made the science and technology more understandable is through the character Cassandra Fiorella’s eyes. She is an on board space journalist that sends back reports to Earth, explaining in layman terms the science and technology.
The plot begins fifty years into the future when a Caltech employee notices an anomaly from a space telescope. Officials come to an inescapable conclusion; a space ship is headed for Saturn. A race begins between the US and China to see which country will get to Saturn first to discover the alien technology. A quickly assembled crew is chosen for the adventure of traveling to that planet and confronting the unknown extraterrestrial. The conflict arises when the Chinese are not content to allow the Americans to gain the advantage and put themselves at a disadvantage. This is where the action intensifies as the authors explore the questions: Should the Earth nations work as a community or work for their own benefit, and should space law take the same rules from Maritime law?
Sandford explained to blackfive.net the “target audience is people who read authors like Michael Crichton. He wrote dinosaur books, but was really talking of a way of using DNA to recreate animals, the ability to create a whole new species. Then there is John Grisham who has nailed down the lawyer market. I hope we get readers from the fields of computer programmers, engineers, and scientists that are interested in science fiction but want realism. But we also want to appeal to thriller fans. I think the closest novel like this book is The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy. The technology of the submarine is advanced but very possible. It is about the struggle between countries and what must be done to return home.”
The authors are hoping readers will not know who wrote what scenes and which characters. Obviously, Ctein wrote the science parts because he is an expert who wrote articles on computer and space technology. However, Sandford, a photography enthusiast, wrote many of the scenes involving the description of cameras and their abilities.
The characters are a potpourri of personalities and professions. The main character is Sandy, a super rich, good looking ladies man, a patriot, and a surfer dude. He is the direct opposite of Crow, the security chief who is unfriendly and tends to look at everything as a threat. Dr. Rebecca Johansson, who readers will know as Becca, is the one readers will most identify with. The Captain of the ship is Naomi Fang-Castro, whom the authors refer to by her last name throughout most of the story. She is very formal, makes it clear she is in a position of command, and believes in absolute discipline.
The authors commented on their desire to travel to space. Sandford told blackfive.net, it does not “appeal to me, being confined in what I see as a giant cigar tube. I had an experience as a reporter when I went on this airplane that flew back and forth between Cuba and the US. They were looking for drug planes and any incursion aircraft from Cuba. We were stuffed in for eight hours and there were no windows. I realized I wanted to be able to go outside. The danger would not bother me since I landed in tight areas in Iraq on a Black Hawk helicopter.” On the other hand, Ctein would go up in a minute.
Saturn Run is a tale of courage, treachery, and takes readers on a ride through space. The best parts are the descriptions of how the crew finds their strength and wits against formidable adversaries. An added bonus is the cool cover of the book that is almost in 3-D and seems to be a photographic representation of the technology developed, “the ribbons,” used to help power the spaceship.