by Kim Stanley Robinson
Cover Artist: Alamy (Galileo); Shutterstock (Jupiter)
Review by M. E. Staton
Spectra Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553806595
Date: 29 December 2009 List Price $26.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
What if one of the greatest scientists and philosophers of the western world got some of his most important ideas not from his own genius, but from inhabitants of the moons of Jupiter several centuries in the future? That is the question asked by Kim Stanley Robinson in Galileo's Dream.
The noted philosopher and mathematician Galileo Galilei is approached by a strange man and given the idea of building a telescope. After much deliberation over the idea and the making of lenses he finally creates the device to the astonishment and wonderment of his friends and patrons. Upon improving further the devices capabilities Galileo is again visited by the stranger and through it taken on his first adventure to the Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter. Moons he himself had recently discovered through the telescope and christened the "Medicean Stars". He finds an advanced human civilization several centuries in his own future. A civilization split by a philosophical debate he doesn't quite understand. His first visit is all to brief and cut short, he is returned to Earth in his own time. His memory of the episode is largely erased by the one who had made it all possible.
In between his normal life of invention, teaching and thinking Galileo makes additional trips to the Galilean moons and begins to find the thread of the debate that has divided the future people of his beloved moons. As turmoil rages in the future as it does in his own time. Galileo is brought up on charges of heresy not once but twice. He discovers that the charges brought against him are not just the suspicious and paranoid whispers of earthly rivals and jealous opponents, but orchestrated by the one who had ignited his mind in the first place. In order to save himself he must also save the future people from making a terrible mistake.
This is a book of two halves. The first being the personal story of Galileo Galilei from his thirties until his death and the legacy that he left behind him. The second is the fantastic journey he goes on to help the future of mankind.
The story of Galileo the man and the philosopher is exceptionally detailed. No doubt due to the author's rigorous research and ability to imagine even the smallest details of the great man's life, passions, and curious whims. On it's own it makes an intense and enormously thorough biography of one of histories most important revolutionaries of science and thought. However, there is a point where the unending descriptions of Galileo's foul moods and infinite maladies, both imagined and real, begin to wear thin. The novel is only saved by the wondrous landscapes of the different moons of Jupiter and the fascinating character of Hera who becomes Galileo's guide, teacher, confident, and friend on his trips into the future solar system.
Although the parts of the novel which take place upon the moons are exceptionally written -- having a somewhat C.S. Lewis quality that is reminiscent of his Space Trilogy -- it takes several of these trips to even begin to understand why Galileo is being brought to the future. The biographical earth-based portions are so long and drawn out that the reader should be forgiven forgetting entirely what has happened in the future portions and coming to the conclusion that this is not only a novel of two halves but of two minds.
Kim Stanley Robinson has written both a detailed biography and also an exciting action adventure with philosophical overtones. Unfortunately, the two stories do not mesh very well. The Galileo of Earth is stubborn, greedy, moody, and subject to enormous bouts of self doubt and depression. Whereas the Galileo who travels through time is daring, courageous, and always curious. Yet, these are the same man. This heavy inconsistency and the peppering of the later story line with alternate universe theory so that Galileo can save other versions of himself from terrible fates and confusing the reader with the intermittent point-of-view of Cartophilus -- a man from the future trapped on Earth and spending his days as a mistreated servant of Galileo's -- I have to say that I became annoyed and more than anxious to finish the novel.
There are some very brilliant moments and beautiful scenery, but it is far too long and beats Galileo's personality to death so that you no longer really care what happens to him in his reality waiting for those times when he is taken to the stars. The ultra subtle point-of-view of the narrator irritates by suddenly appearing when the rest of the time the point-of-view is written as an overview narrator and not a first person observer as (according to the publisher) is intended.
I have read many other reviews of this novel and most are largely positive for the author's creativity and use of imagery, which I agree are exceptional. However, I have to say that he damages my perception of his abilities by not editing down the biographical portions of the novel, confusing the point-of-view for the reader, and spending an enormous amount of energy on a post-Galileo historical round up that is both overly romanticised and incongruous with the rest of the story.
A fair effort for detail on the man and the imagining of the future worlds of our solar system, but not enough to make it a high recommendation in my opinion.