30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is something of a sprawl of a book, attempting to meld two stories, that of the life and times of Galileo and one of a far future battle around the Jovian moons. To connect the two, Galileo is `transported' to the future time and place via an `entangler', and returned after his visits with his memories and knowledge gained from his trip mainly erased via drugs, though with some residual `déjà vu' effects.
It's an uneasy balance between the two stories. On the one hand, we follow Galileo and get to see him as a great scientist, but also as a very fallible, hard-headed, and somewhat obnoxious person, along with thematic messages of where science should leave off and faith prevail, or perhaps meld in a type of synthesis that would have greatly altered the course of history as we know it; and on the other we observe (along with Galileo, who rarely takes any active part in the action) the efforts of the future civilization to resolve their own factional disputes while at the same time try to change the past to achieve a less horrifying path of humanity from Galileo's time to theirs.
The trouble is that these two parts are unequally balanced; Galileo's story is immediate and readily understandable, while the future society never seems to be concrete, never crystallizes into a `you are here' environment, despite strong descriptive material and some excellent scientific exposition of the known features of the Jovian moons and current theories about space-time and ten dimensional manifolds. In addition, the reason Galileo was brought to this future is never given a strong reason (the reason that is given of Galileo's advice being sought is almost immediately refuted as nobody really listens to him, and his understanding of the situation is naturally very limited).
The story of Galileo himself is rich and finely detailed, although not told in entirely linear order, and at the beginning the reader may find many of the references to people in his orbit rather opaque. But by the end of the book a very fine portrait of the man can be seen, warts and preeminence both proudly displayed. Most of the secondary characters are only sketched in, and there is a little bit of a problem keeping track of which Cardinal or Duke this is and whether they are friendly or not to Galileo's position. But as we track Galileo's life, the entire historical period and the vagaries of politics and the Catholic church also come to life.
Given the weakness of the second, future world story, and the strength of the historical one, I think I would have much preferred that Robinson would have written this as a pure biography. The end result would have been much better.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2010
"But why should science have to have a martyr?"
Kim Stanley Robinson is one of those quiet masters. Known predominantly for his Mars series, Robinson has a dedicated fan base who marvels at his vision and his storytelling. When you bring up the genre of science fiction, other names instantly gravitate toward the fore of the discussion: Asimov, Bear, Ringo, Niven, Weber. This is not to suggest that Robinson is a lesser novelist. In fact, where his Science in the Capital series on a global warming disaster of a worldwide level may have been a step back in terms of his storytelling strength, his newest book, GALILEO'S DREAM, is a surefire winner.
In GALILEO'S DREAM, we find ourselves embroiled in the scientific community and the life of Galileo Galilei in 1609. Science is expanding, and philosophers and mathematicians seek to make bold discoveries all within the shadow of the Church --- which seeks to make certain that no discoveries are too bold.
With some help from a mysterious stranger, Galileo creates a spyglass that he then expands into a telescope, which he uses to map the surface of the moon. Intrigued by the power of his own creation, he turns its sight on Jupiter. There, he discovers four moons, which he eventually determines revolve around the main planet body. His star is on the rise.
What he does not remember, however, are his late-night visitations to the moons he has recently discovered. Manipulated by the stranger who aided him in the invention of the device, Galileo is an unwitting pawn in a battle on the Jovian moons in the year 3020. One group seeks to use his mind to convince the others not to explore the oceans on the moon of Europa. In the midst of this debate, Galileo learns that he is a "martyr to science," immolated in his own time for his heresy by the Inquisition. Does it have to be this way, or can his future be changed and his life spared without unmaking the future? And must science and religion be at odds with one another?
Robinson has done some outstanding work with GALILEO'S DREAM. The scientist/philosopher/mathematician truly springs to life on the page, and reading of his discoveries as if in real time is remarkable. The majority of the novel is clearly deeply researched and impressive historical fiction to a large degree. About a third of the book deals with the more fantastic: time travel. Yet this is no mere time travel convention that has become so cliché in science fiction. In this instance, time and time travel are a major cog, and the philosophy of time and its makeup is debated by Galileo and Hera, one of the Jovian leaders who seeks to protect him in his own time.
GALILEO'S DREAM is a shining example of the level of quality to be found in science fiction, an exemplary achievement that brings 17th century Italy flaring to life in beautiful fashion while instilling a bit of the fanciful and the prospect of what could lie ahead in the distant future. Robinson has penned a book that is deserving of attention and admiration.
--- Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I'm a huge fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Years of Rice and Salt" which is a terrific blend of pseudo science fictional philosophy and religion, and fun and entertaining alternative history. It's deep and touching and provides a strong sense of activity (if not specifically action and adventure).
The concept behind "Galileo's Dream" drew me to the book the instant I read the description: Galileo is taken from Earth to the moons of Jupiter (which he discovered) in an attempt to modify the past to make for a better future. Unfortunately, while it's a fun concept, Robinson provides an uneven implementation.
The vast majority of the book follows Galileo over the course of 30 or 40 years through his major astronomical discoveries and inventions. His is, by far, the strongest character throughout the book that includes a mix of humans from the future, Galileo's daughters, and numerous other good and bad guys from 17th century Italy.
The first several times that Galileo is spirited away by "The Stranger" the table is set for a interesting view of human life in the future, living on a moons of Jupiter. I was settling in for a nice space/time travel ride but became disappointed and the increasingly shorter visits to space and the future, and the increasing focus on philosophies of time travel, it's impact on the past, and vagueness on the battles between science and religion.
These elements are interesting and good scifi fodder, however I found them to be bluntly addressed and not well balanced with the minute details of Galileo's daily travails and triumphs.
If you're interested in a solid period piece, with strong historical research and a decent story, then I'd recommend this book. But read with appropriately measured expectations.
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2009
"Galileo's Dream" is the fifteenth and latest novel by critically-acclaimed author Kim Stanley Robinson. Part-historical novel, part-science fiction, it is set primarily in seventeenth-century Italy and follows the career of Galileo Galilei, widely considered to be one of the founders of modern science: the inventor of the telescope and an early defender of the Copernican theory that the earth revolves around the sun. But after he is approached by a mysterious stranger in Venice's crowded marketplace, he finds himself embroiled in the affairs of another world far in our future, where the descendants of humanity are battling over his fate in an attempt to rewrite history.
A curious hybrid of genres, the book in many ways represents a continuation of themes first introduced in Robinson's 2002 novel "The Years of Rice and Salt", an alternative history which explored how events might have unfolded had the Black Death wiped out Western civilisation. At the heart of both works lie ideas regarding the nature of time itself and the ability of certain individuals to alter the course of human history by their actions: a concept which clearly fascinates the author.
In common with all of his novels, a tremendous amount of research has gone into "Galileo's Dream", and Robinson's passion for his subject is made clear. It is never easy to take a real-life individual as one's main character, but the author succeeds here in bringing him to life, showing us the man's faults as well as his virtues. Robinson's Galileo drinks too much, suffers from ill health, is easily angered and generally shows himself to be a difficult man to associate with, despite his intellect and his many talents. His struggles against the authorities of the day - the Roman Catholic Church and the Inquisition - are mirrored in his attempts to come to terms with his own historical significance, and to become the master of his own destiny, against the wishes of those who seek to control him.
At over 500 pages, however, this is a weighty tome, and not always an easy read. Rather than focusing on a few key episodes in Galileo's life, Robinson describes in detail his entire career - from his rise to prominence under the Medici rulers of Florence to his eventual downfall at the hands of the Inquisition. Long sections of the text relate Galileo's movements and work from year to year and even month to month, little of which is in fact relevant to the plot. Unfortunately the result is that the novel sometimes reads less like fiction, and more like a biography. Events lack pace and drama, even as the book approaches its climax - Galileo's trial for heresy in 1633 - while the sci-fi and historical sections feel clumsily interwoven, with several inconsistencies becoming apparent as the story progresses. The secondary characters are only roughly sketched and lack depth, and the dialogue suffers from often slipping into modern idiom, which jars with the seventeenth-century setting.
"Galileo's Dream" is an ambitious work, splicing two very different genres while also dealing with the ever-difficult relationship between science and religion. But whilst it is highly informative, with a great deal to say regarding Galileo's life and his legacy, for the most part it remains a sprawling and confused novel, unfulfilling of its promise, and as such it struggles to live up to Robinson's usual high standard.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2010
The Mars trilogy changed my life, changed the way i think about humanity, social science, applied technology, space, everything. The character development left me feeling as they were old friends, and virtualy every element of the stories is plausable, even probable.
Then i read several other KSR books, most recently 'Galileo's Dream'.
It is as if the Mars books were written by someone else! None of his other books, including this one, come even close to the quality i enjoyed so much in Red/Green/Blue Mars. How is this possible?
The story-line borders on absurd, with weak plots of future humanity intertwining with historical revisitations to Galileo's time, both of which may have been mildly enjoyable if written as separate stories.
Some interesting details around what Galileo lived like (maybe) and accomplished do not make up for the shabby, boring pages that laboriously go over days, even hours of his life.
The 'future' parts of the story are a joke, reminding me of 'Choose Your Own Adventure' stories for kids.
Like so much SF out there, it is just disappointing. I know KSR is highly intelligent, and an incredible author, capable of so much more.
I read this book with high hopes and excitement, and expected much, much more, only to be let down, page after page, chapter after chapter.
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2010
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I'm really mystified by the low grade reviews of this book. I think it may be because it is misclassified as science fiction. It would be more accurately called historical fiction (I'm starting to sound like Polonius in Hamlet). Rather than argue the point I will just offer the alternative that the "science fiction" portions are intended to be allegorical in nature. Not unlike Dante's work that was referred to in the text several times. It can also be seen as an updated version of the discourses Galileo himself used.
The turmoil faced by Galileo in his argument that science and religion are not necessarily antagonistic in their nature but can be turned to the antagonistic ends of the humans who profess them for their own ends applies equally to both 17th century Europe and 35th century Jupiter as it does today. The issue is, can man be true to his own destiny when faced with the fact that he is not the supreme product of nature? That others are far more powerful than he. Can we dwell in our own genius when others may outshine us?
On another level Robinson deals with the fruits of a strictly patriarchal society. Galileo's mother was an extremely intelligent women who because of her gender and her status could not engage that intelligence in a meaningful way. Her experiences drove her insane and made all those around her, including Galileo, feel inadequate, unloved and meaningless. This shaped Galileo's life and in the end he becomes aware of the damage that was done. This does not excuse his self-serving and sometimes brutish actions which he came to deeply regret. Nor does it excuse his lack of relationships with any of the women in his life. It does, however, give some insight into the "why" of these actions and traits. Fortunately for Galileo he come to realize this in time to appreciate the love of his daughter Virginia before her untimely death.
Cory Doctorow has said that science fiction authors do not write about the future but about their own time. The chronological disconnect permits them to more freely voice that which none may utter. If the Jupiter segments of "Galileo's Dream" can be viewed in that context we can see that the torment of Galileo is with us today and will be for some time to come. Will we be able to stifle the devils of our lesser nature and give flight to the angles of our better nature? Time will tell.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2010
I loved the premise Future colonists on the moons of Junpiter go back in time to bring Galileo to the moons to manipulate the political problems they are experiencing. I loved the idea but I didn't feel drawn into the story. i didn't get the sense I was on the moons of jupiter in the future. Everything was vaugely described and not relly aprt of the story at all. I didn't feel the experience of being there. I couldn't finish. I gave 3 stars because the idea was so good and the reasearch into Galileo's life was good. Didn't do it for me. Sorry.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2010
I was eagerly looking forward to this novel. Any new Kim Stanley Robinson book is a treat, and given the amount of time and energy he'd put into this novel, I had high hopes. And while I liked some of the chapters, I found the book to be very uneven. I enjoyed reading about Galileo's trips to the Galilean moons, and the story surrounding Ganymede was intriguing and could easily have been the basis of its own novel. However, most of the novel tood place in Renaissance Italy and told the story of Galileo's life. These were the parts I could never get into, largely because Galileo came across very differently when he was in his own time. When Galileo was with Ganymede and then Hera, he was full of wonder, intellectually sharp, and ultimately out of his league trying to understand a time that was well beyond his own. In other words, he was an interesting historical character put into a complicated and messy universe. But when Galileo was in Italy, he often took on a pathetic role, crying over his "illnesses", hitting others out of anger, and generally having little clue how to handle himself regarding his heresy case. Galileo's character was redeemed towards the end, but the story didn't bring home his redemption.
Additionally, there were certain parts that just never seemed to fit into the novel. While I liked Cartophilus as a character, the way his character was brought together at the end of the book seemed contrived. Also, there was little mention of Galileo's Jovian travels towards the end of the book, and it did not seem clear how they fit with the development of Galileo's character. Finally, I could see where Kim Stanley Robinson was going w/ the time travel concepts, but they became confusing whenever they were brought into the storyline and ultimately detracted from what he was trying to accomplish.
So, in some parts the book was lovely, but there were larger portions that just didn't seem to work well and more importantly I found it difficult to care about Galileo.
on November 1, 2010
Kim Stanley Robinson tries something different to his usual classic science fiction novels in Galileo's Dream, employing a combined story of Galileo's life as a scientist with an unusual setup on a moon of Saturn in the distant future. The result is an incredible novel that uses all of the great styles and abilities that Robinson has to offer with his complex, developed writing style, the excellent research, the hard science fiction, and an incredible, unique story.
Galileo's Dream essentially has two storylines going on that involve Galileo Galilei: one is the moving story of Galileo's life in becoming a hard scientist, scrutinizing everything, researching and learning, coming up with new inventions, and studying the heavens every day. As his popularity grows and his ideas and theories on the Copernican idea of the universe - that everything does not revolve around the Earth, but that the planets revolve around the sun - turn to proven facts in his mind and he tries to publish works claiming this, he begins to feel the wrath of the church and more importantly the Pope who he though would be an ally and is instead turning into an adversary.
The other story to Galileo's Dream is when Galileo uses his recently invented telescope with superior lenses, he discovers the moons of Jupiter - which are known as the Galilean moons - and in a moment is magically transported from the seventeenth century to the year 3020 on the moon of Europa where he must help the strange looking inhabitants with their own problems. Each time he is transported back to his time, he remembers a little more of his forays into the distant future.
Galileo's Dream is a unique story that could only have been conceived of in the mind of Kim Stanley Robinson, taking the reader on a journey they won't soon forget, as they learn about the incredible life of someone often referred to as the world's first scientist, as well as being entertained by an engrossing science fiction story set in the thirty-first century.
Originally written on March 11th 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I'm surprised that not one of the previous reviews has mentioned several oddities in this book. First and most striking, Robinson adds 3 or 4 gas giant planets to our solar system. He gives no context, no explanation for this, so it seems a rather obvious signal from Robinson that the future that Galileo repeatedly visits is a sharply alternative future--after all the addition of multiple gas giants is a pretty large alteration in our local physical environment! Whether those gas giants exist in Galileo's present, his nature timeline, is not apparent, as they haven't been discovered yet--if they were there to be discovered. So the questions of whether Galileo's timeline is even the same as the future timeline he visits is undeterminable.
Then there are a few oddities in the narration of this novel. In two isolated and widely separated paragraphs, the POV switches to the first person, that of Cartophilius. He becomes the narrator of the story, but only for those two paragraphs. There may have been more such paragraphs which I missed, but no more than a handful. Then there are a scattering of further paragraphs that focus on Galileo's household and their collective reaction to events, most particularly Galileo's physical or mental state at his crisis points. In those paragraphs, the narrators suddenly begins to use "we" and "our" to describe the household's reactions and thoughts. Otherwise, throughout the novel, the narration from is an impersonal third person POV.
These shifts in POV do not seem to me to be intentional and don't add at all to the narrative effect. In fact, they are so isolated and so striking in their abrupt shifts that I am left guessing that they are oversights, missed in a final revision of the novel. I should mention that I read the Kindle version--could it be that these problematical shifts in POV did not exist in the printed versions?
I don't mean to say that these oddities mar the novel in any significant manner. I admire Robinson's work and writing style and have read most of his long form fiction. Rather, I wonder at the other readers who didn't bring these issues to the forefront, as they really are pretty striking!
Galileo's Dream is carried by Robinson's exploration of who Galileo might have been, the writer's surprising strength in conveying the society and landscape Galileo lived in, and the very interesting exploration of issues scientific and philosophical, posed in a manner that relates them very strongly to the questions with which the historical Galileo clearly grappled.