John Sandford’s latest novel will be somewhat of a surprise for his many fans. He is a master of the crime thriller with his Minnesota based Prey and Virgil Flowers series.

His new offering, Saturn Run, is not a crime thriller. And while Minnesota makes an appearance early, the bulk of the story takes place in the far reaches of the galaxy. Written with photographer and science fiction aficionado, Ctein, Sandford is taking his fans to outer space.

I’ve read a few science fiction novels but it’s not my favorite genre. However I like the way Sandford writes and decided I’d give it another try. The year is 2066 and the U.S. has an orbiting space station, USSS3, which maintains an observatory with 4 telescopes. Astrophysicists at Caltech monitor the feeds.

Sanders Heacock Darlington is an intern, not an astrophysicist, whose job is to check the output of one the telescopes, Chuck’s Eye. Ambling in late for what he thinks will be another dull shift, Sanders discovers that Check’s Eye has picked up a critical anomaly.

An object that is 99% real, kilometers long and wide, and emitting hydrogen is decelerating as it approaches Saturn. It will be orbiting the planet in 13 hours. Fifteen hours later scientists confirm that Sandy Darlington has discovered an alien spacecraft.

When the destination of the spacecraft appears to be a space station the U.S. secretly begins a mad scramble to repurpose the USSS3 into an interplanetary vessel. However keeping their activity and the discovery from other nations proves impossible.

China was already preparing a ship to send a crew to colonize Mars. The mission is changed and the ship stripped down for the long trip to Saturn. The race is on. Who will reach Saturn, the space station and the potential technology first? China is ready first and launches the Odyssey.

It takes another 9 months before the U.S. ship, renamed the Richard M. Nixon, is ready to go. The task for Captain Naomi Fang-Castro and her crew is to not only overtake the Odyssey but travel the billion plus miles in a fraction of the time it takes China. The new power plant developed by Dr. Becca Johansson will have the Nixon travelling at a steadily increasing speed. Will the increasing speed and the plotted course, which takes them perilously close to the sun, be enough?

The novel begins slowly as the explanation of the science and the assembling of the crew is essential for the story but it’s not the fast start I’m used to from the author. I had doubts I would finish the almost 500 page novel in my 7 day checkout period but once the Nixon is prepped and launched I was hooked.

Besides intriguing characters like Sandy Darlington, Crow and John Clover there is sabotage, peril, piracy and treason. What more could you ask for in any novel?