Galileo s Dream
While speculative science is fodder for science-fiction novels, grounding a story in actual science takes more skill and research.
Nobody weaves science with story better than Kim Stanley Robinson, and now he has tackled the life and legacy of the legendary scientist Galileo, and mixed this with futuristic encounters.
Galileo’s meetings with a mysterious stranger who calls himself Ganymede are, at best, half-remembered episodes. But Ganymede’s talk of lenses that allow the viewing of distant objects impels the maestro to create a telescope.
Galileo’s subsequent viewings of Jupiter’s moons lead him to endorse Copernicus’ theories.
But the idea that the Earth is not the universe’s fixed center is heretical to the Catholic Church, and Galileo must face charges of heresy.
This isn’t Galileo’s only challenge. Ganymede actually is from a future where humanity lives on Jupiter’s moons, and he takes the old scientist with him to that distant time. Once there, Galileo learns not only about the possible fate of his world, but his own fate as well.
Robinson has made an effort to include many of the actual Galileo’s writings; indeed, much of the book details Galileo’s life and work. But, as a wider theme, the novel also is about science: both the glory of discovery and the hubris of blithely pushing its boundaries. Some sections cover the history of scientific knowledge.
Unfortunately, all this is a lot to have in one book. Add in the long sections about the Jovian moon dwellers and their conflict, and we have a novel with a few too many storylines.
Each tale in and of itself is a good read – especially Galileo’s history – but so much information and plot crammed into one book gets a little too tangled.
Robinson is perhaps too ambitious.
As always, though, his books make readers think and contain many great ideas. Galileo’s Dream is well written but may be too heavy for some.
This review appeared in the Davis Enterprise on February 18, 2010.