Saturn Returns - Sean Williams

It's quite upsetting when an author that you like brings out a book that you don't (especially if you know them personally).

I'm not sure if Saturn Returns was published before or after House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds because some of the character and plot elements are eerily similar. It really doesn't matter anyway, since Saturn Returns is a poor man's version House of Suns [1]. Having read both books within a month of each other I had the advantage of being able to compare them more closely for the purposes of this review.

It's got clones, galaxy-wide disasters and people trying to kill the protagonist - ho hum, we've seen it all before in other stories. Yes, these are typical science fiction clichés but the challenge for the author is to turn them into something new and exciting.

The story begins with the waking of the protagonist Imre Bergamasc in a strange spaceship and a strange body which has been pieced together from some data on the inside of a spaceship. He's suddenly become a woman since the aliens that found him decided arbitrarily on his gender. The change is highlighted throughout the story in terms of how it effects Imre but doesn't really add to the plot in a meaningful way.

Events lead to our protagonist escaping from his alien hosts, and trying to find out what happened to the universe in the 10,000 or so years that he's been away. Because Imre can't remember much of what happened before he was put in the spaceship, it's an excuse for Sean to throw in flashbacks at unpredictable moments.

I don't know if this was intended to make events clearer, but in my case it left me as confused as Imre. The ending made things a bit more understandable, but in my point of view it would have been better for the book to begin with the events in the last chapter, and go on from there.

There are times in the past when I've wanted to hit the protagonist over the head and yell "You idiot!" - especially when the story is written from a first-person point of view - so there's no excuse for using dramatic irony [2]. A classic example for me is Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn series, when it takes four books for the protagonist to realise something that's been obvious to the reader two books ago.

In this case, when a silver sphere helps Imre escape from the alien spaceship, you would think that it would be something he would remember. However when the discovery of a similar object it is mentioned by his companions,the protagonist doesn't even seem to notice it's existence.

I didn't really enjoy Saturn Returns, but because I've met Sean (and he's a really nice guy) I decided to push through to the end. I might read the sequel but only if it starts to improve in the first few chapters.

I'd recommend leaving Saturn Returns alone and trying something like Sean's "Evergence" series instead. Or go and read House of Suns - it's a much better book than this one.

[1] I did have the opportunity to talk to Sean, and he said he hadn't read House of Suns. Weird

[2] Dramatic irony occurs when the reader knows more than the characters do. I think one of the most famous examples can be found in horror movies, when you know the killer is hiding in the room the heroine is about to walk into. This usually results in people yelling at the screen "Don't open that door! He's going to kill you!".


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