Saturn Returns by Sean Williams

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Saturn Returns by Sean Williams

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Natalie Baker
Reviewed by Natalie Baker
Summary: What happens when Imre Bergamasc wakes up and finds he's a woman - and that he's been resurrected - and that people are still trying to kill him? A fast paced, enjoyable science-fiction novel that examines the issues of time and identity in the far future.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841495187

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It is the 879th Millennium, in a time when humans have spread out across the galaxy; learned to cheat time, in a way, in order to live for many millennia; changed their forms of existence so one person can in fact have many separate bodies, identities, lives. And so when Imre Bergamasc wakes up to find that not only is a vast amount of his memory missing, but also that he is now a woman, he's confused, but not freaked out.

What does freak him out is when he discovers he has in fact been reassembled from slightly incomplete information on a drum floating through space, by a hive mind that doesn't seem too keen on letting him go. Imre needs to get out and find his former comrades whom he fought alongside, and try and get his memory back. He'd also, incidentally, like to turn back into a man while he's at it. Along the way he starts to piece together the story of the Slow Wave that caused communications to break down and his part in the fall of civilisation as he knew it, and discovers that despite having been killed once already, plenty of people are still out to get him.

The author describes this book as 'space opera', although there's a little too much hard sci-fi in it for that to be entirely true. It's part detective story and part examination of the nature of identity and people's relations to each other - between individuals, and between an individual and larger parts of society. It's a pacy enough read that the jargon doesn't bog the reader down and while there's a good bit of the 'harder' part of sci-fi, it shouldn't be offputting to those who like their sci-fi a bit softer - it falls nicely in the middle. While the storyline is a little confusing at first, and in some way dictates the structure of the book - a lot of action followed by a lot of sitting around and talking (to establish what the story is about) before the action gets going again - it's well written and brought off neatly enough to keep the reader's interest, and there's enough mystery to keep you hooked - and there's really only one central question: Who is Imre Bergamasc and what's his story?

The characters themselves aren't particularly sympathetic, but the relationships between them are interesting and drive the plot forward, and its in their discussions that a lot of the questions of identity are overtly raised: does it matter if more than one 'copy' of you exists? Does it matter if everyone experiences time at different rates? Does your gender matter? However none of this is too weighty and is integral to the plot rather than getting in the way of it, which can sometimes happen in the grander works of science fiction.

This is book one of a series, and there's enough left unfinished to make me look forward to more - the far future universe is little more than outlined, and I'd like to know more about it (but again, this is a good thing, as it doesn't get in the way of the plot - although sometimes I'm left feeling like I don't know enough, this is, after all, a way of following Imre's discovery of who he is himself, and how he fits in to the way the universe is now - he's missing a lot of his more 'recent' memory), although it's a complete enough book not to leave the reader annoyed at an unfinished ending. There are minor annoyances near the start of the book, referring to things in terms of 'old world' objects that are clearly meant to serve as a frame of reference for the reader but seem a little incongruous in the futuristic setting (something is described as being the size of a flashlight, for example) - but thankfully these disappear soon enough. The exposition section, although told often in flashbacks, is still just a lot of sitting around talking, and I did feel like skimming through some of these parts, but although they go on for a little bit too long, when the story picks up again I felt much clearer about what was happening (and there's a glossary at the back which also helps, although most of the terms used in the text are relatively clearly explained).

This isn't really a book to completely relax with - you'll need to concentrate a little, but it doesn't demand too much from the reader, and it's a fast, thrilling, fun read that will give you a few things to think about, too.

You can also read John Lloyd's review of Saturn Returns.

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