Saturn Returns by Sean Williams

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The Slow Wave has hit the galaxy and has wrecked the Continuum in its wake. The Forts are no more and the line is in chaos as information travelling along it is trawled to find details on this disaster. What was once a united galaxy is now in turmoil as individual systems take control for themselves, resulting in more fighting for power.

When the Jinc find pieces of debris from a large artefact on the edge of the galaxy, they painstakingly gather all of them together to reveal a drum, one with a back-up of Imre Bergamasc contained inside as data. After they re-create his body and mind using all this data, Imre awakens 150,000 years after his last memories, in a brand new body – unfortunately the wrong sex – and a patchy memory. Although the Jinc try and reassure him it could be due to the recreation of the drum, he has other thoughts and wants answers.

A former mercenary for the corps, Imre remembers his team and plans on finding them. After escaping the Jinc with the help of a mysterious object and the key phrase ‘luminous’, he heads for the familiar: the Mandala Supersystem. On entering this system he sees first hand how the Slow Wave has affected the galaxy: no united front and a nagging feeling that he shouldn’t just go straight to the first planet he comes across.

We follow Imre on a journey to reclaim his past life, to uncover the memories he is convinced are buried, and to find out what exactly the Slow Wave is and who is behind it.

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Firstly, I enjoyed Saturn Returns quite a lot. It’s a widescreen space opera with elements of military sci-fi thrown in, which is almost always a good combination. As the first part of projected trilogy (plus one short story) it does everything that it needs to do: the story, universe and characters are set up nicely and good descriptions are used to portray the technology in use. Also, plenty of questions are raised (and some answered) that make Saturn Returns a novel that is difficult to put down.

The characters we meet are all unique and each have their own motivations within the main narrative. Although this may sound like it can get messy, it doesn’t. All of the former corps members are given enough depth and personality to bring them to life and behave in a way that is both believable and interesting. Constant questions are raised about alliances and the history between them, but it just fits together nicely. As the story revolves around Imre and his journey we spend a lot of time seeing things from his perspective, flashbacks that reveal a little at a time and events that make the pages just turn quicker. We also know only what he does, so there is always the questioning and guessing, trying to put the puzzle together.

One of the better aspects of the novel was the time span involved in the galactic history. With the technology to make time pass quicker or slower than Absolute (normal time), hundreds of years can pass in mere days, or days can last hundreds of years. This brings up interesting questions about how this time difference affects the population, but is dealt with convincingly and effectively. There is also the fact that many characters have clones of themselves that run around the galaxy and occasionally the memories are combined when this happens. This is looked upon as an extension of that person, not a separate entity, which is a strange view to understand. Although it’s justified in the story, it’s a subject that I wasn’t entirely convinced about.

All in all, Saturn Returns is a great Space Opera novel that has set up the sequel very effectively. With characters and a universe that I look forward to revisiting, Saturn Returns has set the bar high for Earth Ascendant – I’m just hoping it the story will continue in such a great way. Highly recommended.

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