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GALILEO'S DREAM is a shining example of the level of quality to be found in science fiction
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