||[Jul. 22nd, 2013|03:24 am]
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By Sean Williams
OK first of all I loved Saturn Returns, almost from the outset. The scene is instantly set on a darkly epic scale and presented through the lens of an intriguing mystery within the first couple of pages.
This mystery comes in two forms which together make the central crux of the story. Firstly, the main character, Imre Bergamasc, awakens on the edge of the galaxy after 150,000 years of dormancy with no memory of how or why he got there.
Secondly, though time means little for the diversified humanity of the 879th millennium, a lot of it has passed between Imre's last concrete memory and the present day, indeed so much so that the nigh omnipotent galaxy-spanning human civilization of which he was a part appears to have almost completely vanished.
Thus the character takes it upon himself to discover the answers to these twin mysteries en route back to civilization, though of course the former mercenary discovers more questions than answers along his way through both space and layers of conspiracy.
You might think among all the big questions and epic scale there would be little room for genuinely good characterization and small scale narrative, but the best thing about Saturn Returns is that you'd be wrong. The characters are all unique and with their own motivations, stepping fully formed out from the pages almost as soon as they are encountered, with more than enough time and interaction devoted to establishing the personalities of each. All this means that not only is the story set in a complex and well imagined universe, but our main protagonist and his cohorts are also not just likable, but actually understandable.
Saturn Returns, first volume of the Astropolis Trilogy, lands undeniably smack bang in the middle of the current wave of Hard SF, along side the works of Reynolds, Robert Reed, and Peter F. Hamilton, but there is also a good sized dose of both Military SF, Cyberpunk, and hints of gothic thrown into the mix.
Humanity in the Astropolis setting also possesses several creative biological and technological twists that both add to the narrative and form part of the setting, allowing Williams to take his story in some unexpected and pretty awesome directions as the plot progresses.
Despite the high concept elements this is not the kind of epic SF that gets lost in pages of mind boggling exposition, as at its heart Saturn Returns is an undeniably fast paced adventure story. Just an intricate and somewhat psychological one set against the backdrop of a collapsed galactic civilization.
Basically It's a hell of a good read, easy to get into and cerebral enough to stay interesting, recommend for fans of good, dark, Hard SF. I was going to jump into Alastair Reynold's new trilogy after this but instead I have now found myself half way through the next volume of the Astropolis series - Earth Ascendant.