Saturn Game, The by Anderson, Poul, 1981

Saturn Game, The by Anderson, Poul

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The Saturn Game by Poul Anderson is the story of an eight-year journey to explore and colonize the Saturnine system by an immense colony ship. The ship contains a microcosm human society, and needs only to be set down on ground to become a village. The ship crew is a carefully selected gropu of men and women who together fill all society's needs, and includes engineers and scientists and clergy and psychologists, and many others. But for some reason, even with all those thousands of people in the ship, it was decided that the journey would be so boring that a role playing game for the entire crew would have to be designed, so that the crew could pass its time in peace and quiet. This is the story of such a game gone wrong. Two out of five stars, but only grudgingly because technically the book meets the two-star definition. One star for style.

The gist of the story is easy to tell. The colony ship nears Iapetus and a few shuttles are launched for exploration. Three of the exploration crew are dropped on the moon while the commander waits at a distance with the shuttle. The environment is, of course, more dangerous than the crew expects, an accident occurs and someone dies. The captain launches in the shuttle to rescue the remaining crew and wrecks.

Anderson is the epitome of hard SF writers, so the scientific aspects of the story are interesting and believable, particularly the descriptions of Iapetus and Saturn. But the crew is so into this stupid game that they play, that they frequently shift into and out of the game world while they are doing their jobs in the deadly environment of Iapetus. It is a total immersion game, complete with a full range of sensual stimulation, with electronic aid, of course. But by the time the crew has reached the Saturn system and begun the descent to Iapetus, all of the crew has their roles and characters down so well that they can play as they do their jobs, and even away from the computer. Personally, I found the constant references to characters and plot of the game to be incredibly annoying as well as virtually impossible to believe. I could not fathom how a group of highly trained astronauts who are on a mission so far away from Earth that radio contact with Mission Control was impossible could allow themselves to be distracted even for a second while completing the various tasks that life and death are hinged on. I think what Anderson was trying to say, at least in part, was that they were so immersed in the game that it became a shadow of their reality, and that they were so competent at entering their characters lives that they could actually bring the characters out into the real world and do their jobs as them. But it still was nothing but annoying as far as I was concerned. I could not stand the notion that they were standing on Iapetus, staring at the most beautiful planet in our system; Saturn, and all they could do was pretend that they were a knights in a tower with their beautiful damsels at their side. Forget it! I am not buying it for a second, and even if I had read this thing as the role-playing game junkie that I was in my early teens, I still would not have bought it for a penny, much less a dollar. The fact that this book won a Hugo and a Nebula will never cease to amaze or shock me. It just does not deserve it.

Ultimately I think that Anderson's real message here is that the game was a bit of a mixed blessing. It did manage to get the crew into some pretty hot water, but it also gave them the fortitude and will to persist in a near-impossible task and walk out of the ice field to salvation. Still though, I don't care. By the time I got to that point I hated the characters so much that I was jealous over the dead one who didn't have to put up with them anymore. One star for this utter failure of a story, and a warning to stay the hell away. Oh, and forget quotations. I donít want to waste the time.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 2 star(s)

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