Quite a departure for Sandford, who sets aside his Lucas Davenport crime franchise (Gathering Prey, 2015, etc.) and partners with photographer and sci-fi buff Ctein to leave Earth’s gravitational field for the rings of Saturn.
Sanders Heacock Darlington may be nothing more than a wealthy, handsome intern assigned to the Sky Survey Observatory, but he’s the one who accidentally notices the evidence that something’s approaching the gravitational field of Saturn and decelerating. Heavenly bodies don’t decelerate that way, but spaceships do, and soon President Amanda Santeros (hey, it’s 2066) is pulling out all the stops to send a mission to Saturn to investigate. The stakes are so high that only a few people—Capt. Naomi Fang-Castro, who’s quickly drafted as mission commander; Dr. Rebecca Johansson, who’s charged with designing the ship’s power plant; David “Crow” Crowell, the rough-and-ready security chief; and a handful of others—are told from the beginning that Saturn is the destination of the Richard M. Nixon. The goal behind this deception—to keep the Chinese from launching a competing mission—predictably fails, and the space race is on. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, who seem to get all the smooth sailing in the solar system, the Americans are beset by troubles. One of their two power reactors keeps shutting down. An accident in deep space claims a valued crew member. A mathematician aboard the Nixon starts an orgy club. The authors ladle on the tech details and blossoming romances, but the pacing is frustratingly episodic and discontinuous for both the characters and the readers until the ship reaches its destination, at which point the story assumes the momentum it needs to escape the ringed planet’s formidable gravitational pull.
James Bond meets Tom Swift, with the last word reserved not for extraterrestrial encounters but for international piracy, state secrets, and a spot of satisfyingly underhanded political pressure.