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Celestial Matters Hardcover – April, 1996


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (April 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312859341
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312859343
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,265,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Celestial Matters is a startling novel of hard SF in which the scientific beliefs of the ancient Greeks are literal fact. The empire of Alexander the Great has lasted a thousand years, and for a thousand years it has been at war with the empire of the Orient. Now a spaceship is traveling through the heavenly crystalline spheres to the sun to return with the ultimate weapon: a fiery piece of the sun itself.

From Library Journal

Garfinkle deftly captures the Ptolemaic universe in his first novel, an alternative history built on the assumption that ancient Greek science is accurate. Aias, scientist of the Delian League, commands the first expedition to the sun on Chandra's Tear, a ship sculpted from the moon. He sets out to harness a piece of the sun, return it to Earth, and destroy the enemy Middle Kingdom's capital, 'AngXou. But aboard the ship, assassins and traitors try to thwart the expedition. This well-written story combines some Greek philosophy and beliefs with adventure. Highly recommended for sf collections.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

This is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read!
J. Angus Macdonald
The first-person narrative style of the story is extremely well done, and helps the reader gradually absorb a fantastic yet strangely (historically) familiar world.
Craig K. Jackson
The plot itself was exciting and had a few good twists toward the end.
RachelH

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Andrew X. Lias on November 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book may represent the ultimate example of high-concept fiction. The idea alone -- that the Greek understanding of the universe was accurate -- is enough to merit two stars all by itself. Garfinkle, however, was not content to stop there. Rather, he envisioned a world where the empire of Alexander did not collapse but, instead, grew to conquer half the world. Then, to matters even more interesting, he posited that the Chi-based theories of China were ALSO correct in as much as technology based on them was as effective as technology based upon the Greek sciences (a state remniscent of the great divide between quantum mechanics and Relativity). Then, to top it all off, he wove an interesting and engaging story about a Captain caught between his patriotic duty and his moral calling.
This is an absolutely fascinating novel. I don't know whether to classify it as alternate history, fantasy, alternative science, or what-not. It doesn't really matter because it's in a class by itself. Although it may be hard to find, being out of print, it is certainly worth the effort to track down a copy.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. Angus Macdonald on November 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Many people attempt "alternate histories" and yet few, aside from Turtledove and now Garfinkle, have done enough of their homework to make it plausible. Set in an alternate world at an indeterminate time (I suppose you could work it out if you knew the Athenian dating system better), Greece and the Middle Kingdom have been locked in war for generations, nay centuries -- consider this the ultimate Western Logic versus Eastern Vision division to ever come along. Garfinkle understands Aristotlean physics and takes its implications to their greatest "logical" extreme, such as a gun that fires a bolt capable of halting forward motion, thus causing an airborne craft to seek its natural place amongst the elements (metal falls to earth). Due to friend's input, I learn that his knowledge of Taoist physics, while slighter, is also sound. The flight to and through the celestial spheres is exciting, well concieved, and plausible given the science base of the era. Even more important, however, is the development of the characters. Each is fully rounded, lovingly crafted, and a true joy to journey with. One can only hope that he writes more, not in the same world, but in the same vein. This is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David W. Johnson on September 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
Every so often you come across an Alternate History book that kinda stretches the boundaries of what you consider A.H. One such is Celestial Matters, by Richard Garfinkle. The basic split point here is that Alexander went to study in Sparta, then formed an "alliance" as such with Aristotle, to create the weapons with which to run his campaigns.

The "Delian League" has lasted for a thousand years.

But while this is the historical split, there's a much greater physical one. For on this Earth, Aristotelian science really is true. Planets really do move in crystal spheres about an unmoving Earth beneath a vast shell of fixed stars, and they really are made out of different stuff from mere "Earthly" matter. Projectiles actually do travel in straight lines until they stop, and you really can cure someone by balancing his humors.

It's a very strange world. Interesting, but strange. Every so often the characters say/do something that is completely, utterly, weird - yet makes sense within the world of Aristotelian physics.

The basic story is interesting too. It's a good read, I reccommend it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jeremiah Genest on June 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Garfinkle attempts a cosmological reinterpretation of the universe which can be read on several different levels. Garfinkle creates an alternate history of the planet Earth where Aristotle developed technology and empirical science, where Athens, Sparta, and the Han Chinese dominated the modern world. The story also works as a universal journey where crash and survival have reinvented the world.
Richard Garfinkle's novel Celestial Matters is set in a world which diverged from ours early on. It is set in the 900th year of the Delphic League (roughly AD 500). In this world, science, as envisioned by Aristotle, is the driving force behind the world. The Greeks' enemy for world empire are the Taoist inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom, whose science is based on Chinese understanding of the world. This concept is intriguing in and of itself.
The story is of the first ship, made of Moon Rock, to travel to the Sun to steal solar matter. The Greeks intend to use Sun Fire in their nine-hundred year long war against the Middlers.
Although Garfinkle's characterization may not be the strongest and his plot may not move particularly quickly, this book is high concept. The idea that Aristotelian science actually is the way the world works is extremely interesting and Garfinkle handles it extremely well. However, he also postulates that Chinese science works, never attempting to explain how two rival scientific ideologies can co-exist and work. On the other hand, both these forms of scientific thought co-existed in reality trying to explain natural phenomena, so there is no real reason why they can't complement each other in Garfinkle's world.
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