On one hand, it’s better than . At least this time around, we spend the entire book around Saturn and Titan, with a bit more exploration into the rings of the former and on the surface of the latter. There are essentially three plotlines: a robotic probe sent to Titan is refusing to phone home, someone has to go back to rings to verify that they’re alive, and it’s election season again–this time with Zero Population Growth as the main issue.
The first–going into the rings to collect samples to prove that they actually found life– doesn’t make the least bit of sense. There are arguments back and forth about who is going to go and how dangerous it is. But… why? Couldn’t they just use a probe? It honestly fills like filler, although there are some hints of something much bigger going on here, since the life in the rings now seems to be alien nanomachines (which: why? couldn’t they just be different?) After the artifact in the asteroid belt plotline doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere, there are at least hints on more of a story to tell.
The storyline about the probe on Titan is actually pretty cool. It’s a fairly standard ‘unexpected conflict in programming story that comes up all the time in science fiction, but it’s done fairly well. It’s interesting to see a the robot as a point of view–given that it’s not actually sapient (although that’s an arguable point, Titan doesn’t really get into that).
The third plotline annoyed me the most though. The characters remain remarkably stupid. Everyone else is gone, but somehow Malcolm Eberly remained not only on Goddard, but in charge. It’s a potentially interesting story to explore how bad people can take and hold power through manipulation and charisma and if that’s the sort of thing you like to read, you’ll likely enjoy Titan more than I did. He’s just so very unlikable, I found myself wanting to skip large chunks of the book. And the entire election plotline really revolves around a sexist ‘women only want babies / only women want babies’ mess. Oy.
It’s nice to see Pancho Lane again at least!
Saturn and Titan together are certainly among my least favorites of the Grand Tour, but if you liked Saturn, you’ll probably like Titan as well.