Storyhelix Review 001: Return of the Sagan

For my first official book review for Storyhelix, as I attempt to challenge my students to read more, I’ve been chosen by destiny to read Neil Patrick O’Donnell‘s Return of the Sagan

I have mixed feelings going in, since I was one of the few people who watched Contact (one of the only two Jodie Foster movies I will watch – Anna and the King is the other one, and the better one, and I recommend both for different reasons) and thought Sagan did a better job of arguing for faith rather than against it.

But I think Neil Patrick Harris is a good actor and the O’Donnell makes me think of the last name “O’Connell” and that’s from the original The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz (I am probably not the only person who is groaning at the thought of Tom Cruise trying to fill in Fraser’s role, but still . . . really, Hollywood? What could you possibly owe him?) So I am pretty excited to read it.

The book cover makes me happy, too. I am a space geek and art appreciator, so it’s classy, simple, elegant, and just awesome.

The story starts out with the crew of Sagan and their collected flight machine crews, military personnel, and congressional representatives heading back to Earth after close to 100 years of traveling from a colonized planet known as Maximus Prime. It takes 93 years to get from Maximus Prime to Earth, so three generations pass before the Sagan arrives. But as they get closer, they find out humanity – all 10 billion people – have been lost.

It is at this complication Francis Burns, a liberal arts and archaeology professor with a great love of books, especially Tolkien’s work, and science fiction themes, is selected to go down and assess the situation. Francis suffers from OCD, a reoccurring juxtaposition of himself and others aboard.

Throughout the transition from the Sagan to Earth, political and military tension, issues with survival, and romance all shift around. I won’t give away the ending, but there are a lot of elements mixed in from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and even the life of St. Francis of Assissi. There are some paranormal/supernatural forces at work, in addition to the natural conflicts.

I will say, it’s a happy ending, though “ending” is probably not the best word for it. O’Donnell could have easily put To Be Continued . . . at the end and I would have been satisfied with the book, as well as looked forward to the sequel.

Standout Points:  

1. I thought the character of Francis, and his quest for freedom from the Sagan, complemented and even strengthened by his OCD, was very well written. I think he would easily fall into the “Manic Pixie Dream” Guy archetype, a lover of books whose mind is a charmingly ongoing shift from the real world to a fantasy world of his own creation.

2. The romance with Rebecca was a nice touch, too. Love humanizes people even as it pushes them to the heights of human accomplishment and pushes the ceiling of impossibility.

3. Pacing is good. It’s a bit tricky to balance all the conflicts, and I had some trouble keeping tabs on which people (I do not have a working knowledge of military positions) were who and had what power, but the action and intrigue remained well-balanced throughout the work.

4. Every good book I read seems to have good movie potential. I think O’Donnell would have to combine some of the military/political roles, but if I had to compare it to a movie I’ve seen, it would be a good cross between The Martian and 2012. I liked both for different reasons, so take that as you will.

5. Book meets archetypal/genre expectations, and reaches a broad audience. Fantasy lovers will like it too.

Why You Should Read It: 

  1. Who doesn’t love space travel?
  2. Space Survivalist reading = fun and dangerous, very thrilling for the reader.
  3. Reflective: Makes one wonder about ethical implications of science, possibilities for the future, puts human life in a humble yet dignified perspective; also allows for the reader who struggles with OCD, or knows someone with OCD, to empathize more. Lacking compassion is no small matter in today’s world.


What are you waiting for? Buy Return of the Sagan today!


10 thoughts on “Storyhelix Review 001: Return of the Sagan

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