An alien vessel is detected approaching Saturn. Before long it departs, but it is clear that it rendezvoused with something in or near the rings. The U.S. and China, the two superpowers of 2066, are in a race to get there to make first contact with the aliens or explore what they left. Sandford, essentially a thriller writer, handled the story line; Ctein handled the hard science. I listened to the audio version.
On a superficial level the book was satisfying enough. It kept me generally entertained for the requisite number of hours. Still, I would have to call it uneven. The hard science part was quite good. Ctein did his part. The story line, though, struck me as artificial and simplistic, with stereotyped characters, especially on the Chinese side. None of the main characters, Sandy and Fiorella in particular, seemed entirely believable but they did have the virtue that they weren’t obvious superheroes or supervillains. My real gripe, though, is that it seemed to me to be a bait and switch. I was expecting a first contact sci-fi novel but it turned out to be a cold-war-in-the-future space race novel. *spoiler warning* Virtually the entire plot was about the competition between the U.S. and China. The entire first contact part was a huge anticlimax. The hard science all pertained to the technological approaches taken by the two human nations in their ships, the basics of orbital mechanics, and so forth. As such it was earth-bound stuff you could read on any science blog. As mentioned, that part was quite imaginative and well done as far as it went. The political skullduggery of the plot was not.
Another shortcoming was the reader, although at times he was quite good. At other times he was too mechanical in his reading almost as if reading from a badly timed TelePrompter. As a Mandarin speaker, I also had to grit my teeth at his pronunciation of the Chinese names, especially Cui’s, although I suppose that’s forgivable. He did a good job of adopting accents for the various characters.