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Galileo's Dream
Kim Stanley Robinson
Bantam Spectra, 532 pages

Galileo's Dream
Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson has travelled and worked in different parts of the world (including Washington, DC and in Switzerland) with his wife, Lisa, an environmental chemist. His work has garnered many awards including the Nebula Award ("The Blind Geometer" and Red Mars), the Asimov, John W.Campbell, Locus and World Fantasy Awards ("Black Air") and the Hugo Award (Green Mars).

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Galileo's Dream
SF Site Review: Galileo's Dream
SF Site Review: Sixty Days and Counting
SF Site Review: Fifty Degrees Below
SF Site Review: Forty Signs of Rain
SF Site Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2002
SF Site Review: The Years of Rice and Salt
SF Site Review: Antarctica
SF Site: Kim Stanley Robinson Reading List

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Kim Stanley Robinson's Galileo's Dreams feels, at times, as if it is two separate novels woven together. One is straight historical fiction about Galileo Galilei's struggles with the Catholic Church in the early seventeenth century while the other novel is a science fiction tale which places Galileo in the far future. Robinson does manage to tie these two novels together in ways which are not just related to the identity of his protagonist to create a satisfying story.

The science fictional portion of the story propels the entire novel. Galileo is initially presented with a telescope by time-travelers from the distant future who serve to guide his discoveries and eventually open up the whole world of science to him. This portion of the book also postulates an alternative world in which Galileo suffers the same fate as Giordano Bruno. Part of Galileo's role is to figure out how to avoid being burned at the stake.

The historical novel portion is a close retelling of Galileo's actual story, occasionally with some input from the science fictional side, such as the mysterious stranger who first provides Galileo with the telescope and his servant who is left in Galileo's service. This portion of the novel holds a strong resonance as Galileo's options are slowly closed off to him, forcing him into the familiar history that ends with his house arrest.

The details of seventeenth century Italy is in marked contrast to the much sketchier portrayal of thirty-first century Jovian space. Although partly this is the result of the difference between an historical novel and a science fiction novel, it can also be attributed within the confines of the book to Galileo's total immersion in his own time and his introduction to the world of the future. Robinson has, of course, demonstrated a tremendous ability to built complete and coherent future worlds.

Robinson avoids allowing the futuristic portions of his narrative to become a deus ex machina by the simple expedient of introducing an amnesiac to Galileo before he is allowed to return to his own time. However, Galileo's own inquisitiveness finds a way around the drug and he becomes as enmeshed in Jovian politics as he is in Italian politics. Robinson's portrayal of Galileo as less than interested in his native politics, but curious about what is happening politically on the moons named for him is a suggestive choice, painting him as less of a pragmatist and more a theoretician.

Robinson's Galileo is a fully realized figure, based in no small part on the historical person. The idea of placing him in different contexts, whether the historical or futuristic and then comparing them and showing Galileo's own consistency, or lack thereof, makes Galileo's Dream an intriguing character study even as Robinson also uses the text to explore the role of science and the conjecture on the nature of time.

Copyright © 2010 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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