Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Richard Garfinkle's novel Celestial Matters is set in a world which diverged from ours early on. It is set in the 900th year of the Delphic League (roughly AD 500). In this world, science, as envisioned by Aristotle, is the driving force behind the world. The Greeks' enemy for world empire are the Taoist inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom, whose science is based on Chinese understanding of the world. This concept is intriguing in and of itself.
There are a few flaws with the world Garfinkle built. One of his characters is a "Xeroki" and there is a reference to Tenochtitlan. Although my native American history is not particularly strong, I do not believe the Cherokee existed as early as Garfinkle represents and Tenochtitlan was built in the fourteenth century. However, these are minor flaws in the wider work.
The story is of the first ship, made of Moon Rock, to travel to the Sun to steal solar matter. The Greeks intend to use Sun Fire in their nine-hundred year long war against the Middlers. After an attack on Commander Aias, he is assigned a body guard in the person of Captain Yellow Hare, a Xeroki who is also a Spartan.
In the course of preparations for the journey, Aias is disturbed to discover his good friend, the Chief Dynamicist Ramonojon, is acting strangely. Aias' concern for his friend leads to Yellow Hare's suspicion that the Indian is responsible for the attacks on Aias and attempts to subvert the mission. Her beliefs are flavored by several revolts which occured in India against their Greek overlords. When the ship is attacked by Middlers, feelings against Ramonojon reach their height.
Although Garfinkle's characterization may not be the strongest and his plot may not move particularly quickly, this book is high concept. The idea that Aristotelian science actually is the way the world works is extremely interesting and Garfinkle handles it extremely well. However, he also postulates that Chinese science works, never attempting to explain how two rival scientific ideologies can co-exist and work. On the other hand, both these forms of scientific thought co-existed in reality trying to explain natural phenomena, so there is no real reason why they can't complement each other in Garfinkle's world.
While I wouldn't suggest anyone rush out an buy Richard Garfinkle's book to devour immediately, it contains several interesting ideas. My recommendation would be that when Tor releases the paperback, this is a book you might want to look into. If it seems interesting, pick it up. As a first novel, it shows potential and lives up to some of the author's apparent ability.
Purchase this book from