Saturn Returns (Astropolis) by Sean Williams

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Saturn Returns (Astropolis) by Sean Williams

Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A far-future tale of an amnesiac warrior piecing together what destroyed a lot of the human civilisation. A high concept, high energy and highly appreciable read for genre fans.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: June 2008
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841495194

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Imre is surprised to wake up in a bunk in an alien spacecraft. It's an alien with a hive-mind, drifting around the outer rim of the Milky Way trying to find God, and/or the first ever life-forms of the galaxy. Imre quickly finds out he has a form of amnesia – quite unsurprising, given that the aliens have had to built him from scratch, using a stash of data contained within an iron casket, sent into space millennia ago. Imre also quickly finds out he is now a female.

The few fragments of memory Imre survives with help both him and us. We learn this is the far future, the 879,000s no less, and that humans have made great bounds in bio-science. Virtually immortal, they have inhabited practically all of the Milky Way, but have not learnt some salient lessons – one war took over 170,000 years to finish.

Imre can vaguely piece together the fact he was a crucial part in that war, and that he had a handful of colleagues in an elite squad of fighters. None of the vital records that might help him have survived the 150,000 years missing to his memory. All that is left him is to go back to the only battleground he can recall, see what and who he can find, and go from there.

This then is a high concept sci-fi book, and there is a lot of meatiness in the ideas brought to the genre here. Adding to the above is the history mankind has had of forming its own hive-mind entities, and a different type of clone – a match in every way (age included), that can meet up, merge memories and form a composite personality from every part's experiences. Not only that, people can change their body clock to live their life in fast-forward or slow-motion, which helps endure the inter-stellar travel, for one.

All that has to be portrayed in the book in a clear way, and of course have to work fully with the plot. And happily, that is the case here. Never does the conceptual imagination get in the way of the story-telling side of things, and the mystery Imre wakes up to is, for us at least, brilliantly enjoyable. To be honest there are a few cheesy moments when every chapter has to have one person give some expository back-story to Imre, but we should forgive that. There is a galactic mystery here for our hero(ine) to solve – featuring the loss to the universe of the Continuum – a virtually living Interweb-style mixture of every kind of data, information and experience that the humans have spread across their realms, and the Slow Wave, whose name is as much of a misnomer as the rush hour.

There is also a strong personality for Imre here, and to a lesser extent perhaps, the other people he unites with. It's the plot however that worked for me, as far as it goes…

To me by far the most important (and understandable) words in the book's title are Book 1, for it gets clearer and clearer as one goes along that this is definitely the first part of a series, and we can only get more and more frustrated at the thought of how little closure and revealed secrets we will get at the end of this volume.

That's one reason why I tend to not read science fiction these days – the difficulty in getting an author to rubber-stamp a series as closed, and trust him there will be no sequels or revisitations. Life is too short to have to flick back over previous volumes.

There is to some extent the need to flick back through this book itself, to make sure you have got your head round the concepts required. However those, plus the place, people and ship names are lightly sprinkled enough. It would be most annoying were it otherwise, as the book breezes past with a great deal of energy, and verve in the telling. It's never a particularly showy experience, but the authority of Sean Williams is just right for both his plotting and his futuristic peoples.

And so I am stuck, with this book happily under my belt, but an annoying wait for volume two, were it ever to come my way. This one lacked a little something – perhaps the ultimate clarity at times, a depth of characterisation for all people within – to get it a perfect rating, and sank further, to 4 stars, first and foremost for being so incomplete. I would definitely stick my neck out to say that were the rest of the planned trilogy to offer as much quality, it would be a must-buy for all fans of the genre.

I would like to thank Orbit for sending the Bookbag a review copy.

If this book appeals to you then you might also enjoy Capacity by Tony Ballantyne.

You can also read Natalie Baker's review of Saturn Returns.

Buy Saturn Returns (Astropolis) by Sean Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Saturn Returns (Astropolis) by Sean Williams at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Saturn Returns (Astropolis) by Sean Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Saturn Returns (Astropolis) by Sean Williams at Amazon.com.


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