Cradle of Saturn by James P. Hogan
Landen Keene is a highly respected engineer, on the forefront of the nuclear propulsion field. Unfortunately, nuclear propulsion has been unpopular since the mid twentieth century. He is a freelance scientist, owning his small company in Texas. He watches as the scientific community rejects any sort of suggestion that disagrees with the current thinking and dogma. As a group, the scientific establishment in the United States and around the world is becoming moribund.
Yet there is a colony of free thinkers, innovators, scientists who can pursue their own line of reasoning. They live out on a moon of Saturn. The group had been financed by a disenchanted scientists and a rich entrepreneur about thirty to forty years earlier. Their government and politics are different from anything Earth has; it appears to be a true communism where everyone does his part and takes care of the other residents as well.
The Kronians, the residents of this colony, are visiting Earth for an official scientific visit. Jupiter has spit out a large mass, about the size of our Moon, that is hurtling toward and around the Sun. Athena, as it is named, will then swing back and head out to…who knows exactly where? The Kronians see this as an opportunistic time to discuss their new views of the formation of our Solar System, especially Venus.
Keene has been in contact with the scientists in the Kronia colony for many years. Now he gets a chance to meet them and work with them. He and some colleagues also have a chance to show off a nuclear engine he designed. Their shuttle literally runs rings around an Air Force test shuttle in near space. He soon finds himself the center of the nation’s attention between his tests, his life long work, and his relationship with the humans who live out at Saturn. When Earth is unexpectedly threatened by the orbiting Athena, Keene finds himself at the center of a situation he could not have foreseen.
The first third or so of this novel was a bit slow as we are introduced to the characters and the situation. This is a hard science fiction novel, based on real hypotheses. The science that is the basis for the novel needs to be explained. Even so, it is presented in methods that keep the reader’s attention. The theories of the formation of the planet Venus and the aging of the Earth differ from long held theories of the age of Earth, dinosaurs, and spatial placement. Using the visit of the Kronians’ visit, Hogan is able to present these hypotheses through the political confrontations, thus keeping up the edge of the story.
By the second part of the novel I was hooked, and by the third part I had trouble putting it down. Hogan is a master of presenting hard science conjecture in an interesting fiction novel format. While the people in the book never came totally to life for me, the story and the happenings did. By the apocalyptic end of the book I was able to picture the devastation occurring all around the main characters.