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Saturn Rukh
Robert L. Forward
Tor Books, 318 pages

Saturn Rukh
Robert L. Forward
Best known as a hard science novelist, Forward is author of the well-known Dragon's Egg. He has written Marooned on Eden and Ocean Under the Ice (with Martha Dodson Forward, his wife), Rescue from Paradise and Return to Rocheworld (with Julie Forward Fuller, his daughter), and Mirror Matter: Pioneering Antimatter Physics (with Joel Davis), a popular science book on anti-matter.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Robert L. Forward's hard SF novel, Saturn Rukh, sees a multi-national consortium send a team of six astronauts to mine precious meta, a helium fuel source, from the Saturnian atmosphere. Although it is revealed while they are enroute to Saturn that life exists in the atmosphere, nobody on earth seems concerned about the local fauna, except a fringe group known as the Peaceful Planet Protectors who have a link to the expedition's biologist.

Characterization is a large problem. None of the characters seem overly intelligent, although Forward would have us believe they were selected because they were tops in their field. At times, the Sexdent, as their spaceship is called, seems to be a space-faring brothel, or, perhaps more appropriately, a junior high school, instead of a corporate mission. Apparently, none of the crew members have taken time to read the literature on their spacecraft, the mission, or their destination since Forward constantly is having characters explaining to each other, as a form of data dump, what the mission is, Saturn's parameters and the abilities of their equipment.

Despite the fact that life is known to exist in Saturn's atmosphere, the biological aspects of the mission seem to be incredibly downplayed. There is only a single biologist aboard the Sexdent, and she was pulled off another mission to be on the Saturn mission. Her training is even less rigorous than her crewmates, since she is permitted to take a vacation while they are training. Despite the disparate pasts and goals of his characters, Forward does not allow them to interfere with his, or their, mission. His mission seems to be to provide the reader with an excruciating science lesson. The characters' mission, of course, is the retrieval of meta from the Saturnian atmosphere.

Stylistically, Saturn Rukh is unrepentant pulp, reminiscent of the stories from several decades ago. As mentioned, instead of the scientists explaining the situation to the juvenile attachment, they are explaining the basics to themselves. More interesting than the humans (and more human than the humans) are the Saturnian rukhs, enormous avians who have both male and female heads.

Eventually, the characters must pull off a last-minute escape. Unfortunately, there is little suspense in their activities because, based on his plotting throughout the novel, Forward has made it apparent that he is willing to allow his characters to suddenly remember things that they all should have known the entire time.

I've mentioned the pulpishness of Forward's style. He has what may be one of the worst descriptions in modern science fiction, reminiscent of Heinlein's worst prose. In chapter one when introducing Rod Morgan and Chastity Blaze, Forward notes, "He was handsome and blond, with the same height and almost the same muscular build as Chastity, except her chest-circumference measurement involved different lumps from his." When this example of fine writing appears on page 16 of a novel, it is a sure indication that things will not get better.

Although Forward does have some interesting ideas in Saturn Rukh, his weak plotting, rationalizations and characterizations make it difficult to maintain an interest in the book long enough for the action to reach Saturn and the rukhs.

Copyright © 1997 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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