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Galileo's Dream Hardcover – Deckle Edge, December 29, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The creative imagination of Hugo, Nebula, and Locus–winner Robinson (The Years of Rice and Salt) is on display in this offbeat novel of scientific discovery. In 1609, a stranger tells Galileo Galilei about a recent Dutch device that magnifies distant objects. The Italian scientist develops his own version, and the success of his telescope brings him recognition and acclaim. Forty pages in, the book changes genres abruptly as the stranger brings Galileo to Europa, the second moon of Jupiter, in a far future where various factions quarrel over plans to colonize the distant sphere. During the course of several trips through time and space, Galileo becomes something of a pawn in the political conflicts while gaining treasured glimpses of the future of science. Readers will eagerly share Galileo's curiosity and astonishment at the wonders of both the past and the future. (Jan.)
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In early-seventeenth-century Venice, a mysterious stranger tells Galileo about magnifying lenses he has seen in the Netherlands, inspiring the scientist to construct a workable spyglass and later view the bodies in the night sky with it. One night, in company with the visitor, Galileo is transported centuries into the future and spatially to the moons of Jupiter. He’s the center of a dispute there between those who believe that, if he does certain things, their future will never come to pass and those who don’t believe it. Thereafter, Galileo strives to understand the wonders of what, during apparent syncopes, he is seeing on the Jovian moons, while earning his living and making his own discoveries in Italy. The latter eventually lead to arraignment for heresy for supporting the Copernican theory. Robinson skillfully melds the disputes of seventeenth-century Italy and speculation on future philosophical conflict, meanwhile providing an engrossing portrait of the epochal scientist—so engrossing that one may feel tempted to learn Tuscan to see how true-to-life Robinson’s depiction is. --Frieda Murray
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Top customer reviews
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)