In the year 2027, the USS Carl Sagan was sent out to expand humanity's reach throughout the universe, a need fueled by the rising population and growing overcrowding on Earth. Three hundred years later, after establishing a colony they called Maximus Prime, the Sagan is returning to Earth.
As the ship travels nearer and nearer to Earth, the messages they send to humans on Earth and the surrounding space stations receive no responses. The further along they get on their journey, the clearer it becomes; there are no humans left on Earth. Their duty has become much harder, as they are now tasked with repopulating Earth and reestablishing the United States. They decide to land in New York, near the city of Buffalo. Because of his knowledge of the area, anthropologist and professor Francis Burns is chosen to go along on the mission. To succeed, Francis must overcome his OCD and many fears, the team must fight through newly reemerged prehistoric predators, and they all must bond together in order to succeed.
The first thought that went through my head after finishing Return of the Sagan was, "Wow! There was a lot going on there!" Because of all the information and subplots contained in the book, there was a lot to think about after finishing it. This was especially good because many of the elements were executed very well. As this was a science fiction novel, there were obviously a lot of descriptions that made the setting and characters come alive. These descriptions made it easy to picture everything in my head without taking anything away from the plot or themes. There was enough there to make it believable but not so much that it got boring.
Another thing I thought was done very well was how O'Donnell was able to tie science fiction and fantasy books and movies such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings into this novel. They were often referenced in a purposeful and well thought out way that enriched this story and also celebrated great literature and movies that came before it. One way I knew this was successful was because after reading this book, I wanted to go out and read Lord of the Rings and watch Battlestar Galactica.
In addition to celebrating literature, Return of the Sagan also celebrated nature. After years of being stuck in the metal slab known as the Sagan, Francis and the rest of the team were finally able to see the beauty of nature after landing on Earth. Many of the books great descriptions were used here, and it made me appreciate the beauty of nature in a way I haven't before.
Although there were many aspects executed very well, there were some I would have liked to see developed more. In order to fully expand on every aspect, O'Donnell would have had to create a much longer story. I would have loved to see more on the romantic aspect that was introduced about halfway into the story. There was also an aspect of political intrigue thrown in, but I didn't feel that was tied together in a satisfying way at the end. Sometimes the story felt a little cheesy. Everything seemed to go the right way, which made it difficult to introduce any surprises to the story because I could usually guess what was coming.
Even though there were some things that distracted me from the main points of the book, it is definitely something I would read again. There were convincing characters, vivid descriptions, and strong themes to leave me thinking about it afterward. I also thought the plotline was extremely creative and well thought through; it had a satisfying end, but at the same time made me wish it would keep on going (in a good way). All in all, I would say there is something in here for everyone, and it is worthy of consideration for your next book.