Saucer climbed to #25 on the New York Times Best Seller list in a matter of days after its release. It's not especially good SF, more like a Boys' Life adventure with the hope of a little sex thrown in, but does that matter? Ask Asta...
Saucer will come as a surprise to most Stephen Coonts fans. Many know Coonts from his bestselling military thriller fiction starring world-saver Jake Grafton in such titles as America, Cuba, and Flight of the Intruder. The departure into science fiction for such a bankable author is startling. The big question, however, is if Coonts’s newest creation can stand on its own. Well, move over Jake Grafton. There’s a new hero in town and he’s got a spaceship that can outrun anything you can outgun.
Three men are on a seismic survey expedition in the central Sahara for an oil company when Rip Cantrell sees a bright glint of something shiny in the distance. Curious, they investigate and find a smooth metal surface embedded in a sandstone cliff. The puzzle of a man-made object buried in rock that has to be at least 100,000 years old fires their imaginations. Soon they’re blasting away to get at whatever is hidden beneath the surface, with the help of an archaeologist, Prof. Soldi, from a nearby dig. Slowly, it becomes clear that they have discovered a flying saucer. Rip, it turns out is something of an engineering wonderkid and with the help of Prof. Soldi, begins to discover how the saucer works. However, as the staggering implications of the technology become clear, the intrigue quickly grows.
A round metal object in the middle of the desert shows up pretty darn quick on USAF satellite images and the military sends some personnel, including beautiful ex-Air Force test pilot Charlotte “Charley” Pine, out to take a look-see. Then some Aussie adventurers descend in a blaze of bullets. Industrialist Roger Hendrick, who owns half of Australia and the title of second richest man in the world, is their employer. Evidentially, he didn’t make his millions by playing fair. Their part of the Sahara gets even hotter when the Libyans helicopter in. Rip, who thinks of the saucer as his, persuades Charley to help get him airborne so they can get some breathing room.
A quick refill by the Nile, a wave and flyby of a passing boat and they’re off again into the wild blue yonder. Coming down is a problem. They aim for the Missouri farm of Rip’s uncle, Egg Cantrell, but from up in space, as Rip says, “North America is a big target.” Rip and Charley end up in Indiana, and make a quick stop at a diner for breakfast, but the coverage from Egypt starts to come in on the TV. Suddenly, explanations of the saucer as an amusement park sign won’t cut it and the duo quickly hover out of town. Now, General “Bombing Joe” De Laurio and the US military are hot on their trail. So are Roger Hendrick and his Australian cohorts. And they’re gaining on Rip and Charley…
I took an advance copy of Saucer with me for a weekend. A little light reading, I thought. The joke was on me. It has been a long while since a book grabbed me like Saucer. I had to find out what happened next. First, I was just as hooked by the metal glint in the distance as the characters. Then came the revelations as to how an ancient spacecraft came to be in the desert. The Holy Trinity of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein can rest easy. To us knowledgeable SF fans, you do have to suspend your disbelief a bit. However, for the average reader, who is as likely to pick up Saucer as Nora Roberts’ latest, it has enough power to make the reader’s mind quietly explode beyond the confines of their head. The love story between Rip and Charley is pretty obvious, and includes standard “fair maiden I will rescue you from the evil kidnappers” scenario. But Coonts does it with a lightness and ease that make me think of the perfect high school prom you see in the movies. What riveted my was having to know how Coonts was going to get Rip and Charley out of one bad situation after the next. Military thriller writer or not, Coonts has a gift for storytelling that will keep you glued to your seat like a high gee turn. I can just imagine a 15 year old teenager reading this and shouting, “Cool!” I have to agree. Saucer is very, very cool.
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu