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Galileo's Dream

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At the heart of a provocative narrative that stretches from Renaissance Italy to the moons of Jupiter is the father of modern science: Galileo Galilei.

To the inhabitants of the Jovian moons, Galileo is a revered figure whose actions will influence the subsequent history of the human race. From the summit of their distant future, a charismatic renegade named Ganymede travels to the past to bring Galileo forward in an attempt to alter history and ensure the ascendancy of science over religion. And if that means Galileo must be burned at the stake, so be it.

From Galileo's heresy trial to the politics of far-future Jupiter, Kim Stanley Robinson illuminates the parallels between a distant past and an even more remote future—in the process celebrating the human spirit and calling into question the convenient truths of our own moment in time.

578 pages, Hardcover

First published August 6, 2009

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About the author

Kim Stanley Robinson

231 books6,195 followers
Kim Stanley Robinson is an American science fiction writer, probably best known for his award-winning Mars trilogy.

His work delves into ecological and sociological themes regularly, and many of his novels appear to be the direct result of his own scientific fascinations, such as the 15 years of research and lifelong fascination with Mars which culminated in his most famous work. He has, due to his fascination with Mars, become a member of the Mars Society.

Robinson's work has been labeled by reviewers as "literary science fiction".

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 390 reviews
Profile Image for Claudia.
947 reviews523 followers
May 20, 2020
If people would only understand earlier, […] that science is a religion, the most ethical religion, the most devoted and worshipful religion … Clearly I was wrong even to try. It isn’t really possible. The paradoxes and entangled potentialities are the least of the problems. Worse by far is the enormous inertia of human weakness, greed, fear—all the sheer bloody mass of us.

Knowing KSR, I knew I couldn’t read this book until I had more knowledge than the basic facts concerning Galileo. And the opportunity came having just read Mario Livio’s Galileo and the Science Deniers .

Good thing I did that, because I could appreciate the extensive research done to write this book. Taking the fictional part aside, this could have been a comprehensive biography of Galileo, just as Livio's book is. In fact, there are a lot of fragments from the Galileo’s correspondence, as well as from his works - KSR have woven the story mostly around them.

More research on it and I found this review written by Adam Roberts, which is better than anything I have to say about the book:

"The best candidate for the first science fiction novel is a short book by the astronomer Johannes Kepler, known as Kepler's Dream (1634): a weirdly potent mix of up-to-date (for the 17th century) lunar science and imagined monstrous alien life. Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel pays elegant homage to the genre's Ur-text, fleshing out and extrapolating its premises by taking as protagonist Kepler's contemporary Galileo Galilei - the man whose discoveries did more to kick-start modern science than anybody before Newton."
More here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...

He was indeed ahead of his times; I think the whole time-travel and learning process in the future is to emphasize his genius thinking and innovative ideas. Galileo even wrote this in his “Dialogo”:

But surpassing all stupendous inventions, what sublimity of mind was his who dreamed of finding means to communicate his deepest thoughts to any other person, though distant by mighty intervals of place and time! Of talking with those who are in India; of speaking to those who are not yet born, and will not be born for a thousand or even ten thousand years …

With all its initial weirdness, this book is KSR at his highest. The writing is wonderful, the way he juggles with the two apparently incompatible ideas is just amazing. In fact, every part of this book has a counterpart: world - archaic vs futuristic, speech - erudite vs coarse, and his wit, humor and outrageous passages from time to time, spice up the story to a delight.

For KSR fans, this book is a must; you'll love it to pieces. For others, I'm not sure; the combination between alternate reality, historical fiction, biography, science-fiction and philosophy can be hard to handle and digest. It's not an easy reading, however it is definitely a very rewarding one.

And I can’t help not sharing here some samples of his remarkable writing; I simply loved them.

The spheroid curve of Moon I soon revealed itself to be an awful landscape, very different to his vague memories of Moon II, which were of an icy purity; I was a waste of mounded yellow slag, all shot with craters and volcanoes. A world covered by Etnas. As he descended on it, the yellow differentiated into a hell’s carnival of burnt sulphur tones—of umbers and siennas and burnt siennas, of topaz and tan and bronze and sunflower and brick and tar, also the blacks of charcoal and jet, also terra-cotta and bloodred, and a sunset array of oranges, citron yellows, gilt, pewter—all piled on all, one color pouring over the others and being covered itself in a great unholy slag heap. Dante would have approved it as the very image of his burning circles of Hell.

He became light. He was a single minim of light and he flew through two parallel slits in a wall, and the interference pattern of his collision with the wall beyond showed without doubt that he was a wave. Then he bounced through a half-mirrored glass and it was obvious he was an incredibly tiny particle, one of a stream of minims moving one by one. Depending on what flight he was made to fly, he was either particle or wave, so that it seemed he had to be both at once, despite the contradictions involved in that, the impossibilities. Maybe thoughts were minims and emotions were waves, for he was stuffed to exploding with both at once—the emotions in their waves also a myriad of pricking jolts, little affectinos that flew in clouds of probabilities and struck like icy snow. It was true but impossible.

Galileo, as he struggled to follow her, was comforted by the idea that even here her work was a kind of spatial geometry, things laid out in relationships, with proportions, just as always. Maybe that was for his sake, but it all fell into place. Everything could be explained: the bizarre paradoxes of quantum mechanics, the strange billowing of the universe out from a single point that had never been anywhere. All the laws of nature, all the forces and particles, all the constants, and all the various manifestations of time, of being and becoming, their suprachronological travel in time, the bizarre giant reality of universal entanglement, were explained. It was a whole, a quivering organism, and God was indeed a mathematician—a mathematician of such stupendous complexity, subtlety, and elegance, that the experience of contemplating Him was inhuman, beyond what any human feeling could encompass.

We all have seven secret lives. The life of excretion; the world of inappropriate sexual fantasies; our real hopes; our terror of death; our experience of shame; the world of pain; and our dreams. No one else ever knows these lives. Consciousness is solitary. Each person lives in that bubble universe that rests under the skull, alone.

He understood then the solitary nature of transcendence, since wholeness was one. He was entirely alone and by himself, he realized: the manifold of manifolds was another one of the secret lives. It was some kind of moving eternity, encompassing an infinity of universes. Everything was always changing, always: so it was change itself that was eternal. Eternity too had a history, eternity too evolved, strove to change and even to improve, in some sense beyond human comprehension—in growth, complexification, metamorphosis. In any case, eternal change. A ten-dimensional organism, pulsing with granular light like the finest snow, everywhere entangled, all points both discrete like the points in Euclid’s definition and yet also part of a whole plenum, flowing in curves, in glissandi still audible in him, a majestic dense chorus of whales and wolves and heartbroken souls, louder and louder, a kind of red loon’s cry—

We all have our seven secret lives. Transcendence is solitary, daily life is solitary. Consciousness is solitary. And yet sometimes we sit together with a friend, and the secret lives don’t matter, they’re even part of it, and a dual world is created, a shared reality. Then we are entangled and one, transitory but imperishable.

Like God’s light striking stained glass—and indeed Jove’s emblematic stars shed rays of fulgur that were like shards of crystal, and the black of its rendered space was in some places obsidian, in others velvet. And the four moons were like round chips of semiprecious stone, topaz and turquoise, jade and malachite. It was stained glass expanded into three dimensions.

But listen to me, because I saw it myself: science began as a Poor Clare. Science was broke and so it got bought. Science was scared and so did what it was told. It designed the gun and gave the gun to power, and power then held the gun to science’s head and told it to make some more. How smart was that? Now science is in the position of having to invent a secret disabler of guns, and then start the whole process over. It’s not clear it can work. Because all scientists are Galileos, poor, scared, gun to our head. Power lies elsewhere. If we can shift that power … that’s the if. If we can shift history into a new channel, and avoid the nightmare centuries. If we can keep the promise of science, a promise hard to keep.
Profile Image for Robert.
816 reviews44 followers
July 8, 2011
I wonder if this project started off as an attempt at a straight fictional biography, like Doctor Mirabilis which is also about a scientist who falls foul of the Catholic Church? Hard to say, but it stands as a science fiction story in which Galileo is contacted by humans from the distant future who want him to help with a problem they are having on Europa...

So there are two stories, one about Galileo's life from the start of his work on telescopes up to his death and another about dreams of Europa where strange and complicated things are happening and something has been discovered in the ocean...Eventually these two threads intertwine and start to affect each other in dramatic ways.

This book really ought to be a failure. Chunks of it are theme and variation on Galileo is debauched, ill, irritable and always short of money - it should get boring but it never quite does. Maybe because the parts where Galileo is doing science or where he is dreaming the future leaven it sufficiently. Maybe because the drama played out over the Copernican world-view is compelling. Maybe because the drama played out near Jupiter is compelling and towards the end an imaginative and descriptive triumph that brought tears to my eyes.

People who have read a fair amount of KSR will know that he has a strong theme of environmental concern running through most of his books. It's back again here but it is mixed with questions about the effect of science and religion on society, whether human nature will evolve, the consequences of war, the compulsive nature of the scientific mind, the beauty of nature and what constitutes life.

A pleasure to read, building steadily to a dramatic climax in Rome and on the moons of Jupiter.
Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews650 followers
July 20, 2014
Cross-posted on my blog, The Periodic Table of Elephants.

I finally braved getting this large tome out of my to-read-pile. It's not that it scared me, I have pretty much adored all that I have read of Kim's, it's just that I'm busy researching at the moment and I knew that this would eat up my time and imagination. And it did, but it did not interfere with my work at all. I'm glad I pulled it out. It really was the best book at the best time.

'Galileo's Dream', although being fiction, is 70% biographical. The story is essentially Galileo's life from his work on telescopes up until his death. We see him rise to fame for his mathematical work and his work with telescopes, his writings on the Copernican universe, and his downfall and judgement by the Catholic Church.

Interspersed in this non-fiction are little snippets of fiction that Kim has placed in Galileo's story. Each section fits into the truth so well and mirrors excerpts from Galileo's writing. As to what they involve, well you'll have to read it yourself; but Kim is a science fiction writer at best.

Just like Galileo the book is intelligent and funny with a great amount of detail being given on politics and his everyday life. Each character is unique and you get to experience many wonderful personalities. The imagery in this book is wonderful, sumptuous and beautiful, full of the observations of an early scientist.

At the heart of the story is the story of science and one of it's founding giants, a man who connected what he could see and observe to mathematics, and looked to see if these results were repeatable and consistent. The fiction of the story is a further exploration of science and philosophy which is powerful and a great enough story in itself.

This really is a wonderful work which gives me a great respect for Galileo and has encouraged me to read further into his story and see how much the details in the book are true. Kim has risen to new greats in my respect also. This one one of those rare treasures of a book that spoke volumes to both my mind and my heart. It would definitely be in a top 20 book list of mine and may even make it to a top 10. It deserves all 5 of those stars.
Profile Image for Andreas.
482 reviews128 followers
December 23, 2020
Synopsis: This novel interleaves two narrations: The most prominent one is the historical biography of Galileo Galilei. The second one is a time travel story where Galileo is repeatedly transported a thousand years into the future in order to mediate a controversy of several factions of Jupiter moon inhabitants. The core of the novel is that Galileo - "first scientist, father of physics" - has been the founder of modern science, using experiments to proof hypotheses and mathematical formulas to describe them.

Galileo's annus mirabilis are the years 1609/10, when he built one of the first telescopes, watched the Moon, discovered Jupiter's innermost moons, and found Venus's phases similar to our Moon. The narration follows the master through these years and transports the wonder of Galileo's findings, his joy and frustrations in an absolute intoxicating way. Galileo hasn't been an easy character: a hot-tempered Italian raging at the stupidity of his fellows in comparison to his mathematic genius; at the same time plaged by numerous health problems, hypochondria not the least of them. But all that bad behavior was balanced by his intense experiments, thoughts, and his caring for his children, most of all his oldest daughter.

After his breakthrough discoveries which made him most prominent all over Europe, and brought him a patronage with the Medici in Florence, there came a lot of bad years. That's when the Roman Holy Inquisition began to be interested in his works, fed by Galileo's numerous enimies. While he was a strict Catholic, and tried to protect his church with his findings, the Inquisition was of different opinion - most of all his propagation of the Copernican heliocentric world model vs. the church's doctrine of the Ptolemaian cosmology with an unmoving Earth at the center.

While he didn't end on the stake and wasn't tortured by the Inquisition, the Catholic church put his works on the index, forbade him to lecture or even talk about Copernicanism, and grounded him to house arrest in his Florence home.

The following year, Galileo worked on different scientific topics, building the basis for later natural philosophers like Newton or Leibnitz. Robinson gives a parody to Newton's famous line, emphasizing Galileo's scientific isolation:

If I have seen less far than others... it is because I was standing on the shoulders of dwarves" (191)

The second, interleaving narration is a time travel story: inhabitants of the inner moons of Jupiter managed to travel back into time, taking with them an apparatus which made it possible to travel through time and place to an entangled machine.

They decided to kidnap Galileo as the first scientist who would bring a new view and moderate their controversy: they've found an intelligent entity deep in Europa's ocean, but fear to interact with it.

One of the most interesting lines here is Galileo's statement that science shouldn't be independent of religion, but

Science needed more religion, not less. And religion needed more science. The two needed to become one. Science is a form of devotion, a kind of worship." (419)

Review: With a biography, one needs to build trust the author doesn't make up things. The author integrated many (translated) citations from Galileo or his contemporaries, always easily recognizable by using italics. And I already knew about the basics from Galileo's life from another historical fiction - Bertold Brecht's Life of Galileo has been several times the topic in high school. One can say that I always was a fan of that guy.

As far as I can tell, Robinson nailed Galileo's life and his time in Venice, Florence, and the Vatican accurately. But then again, I'm not a professional historican and can't really assess the correctness.

On the other hand, this is a narration, a novel. Not everything has to be 100% correct, and some elements are up to literary freedom. Most importantly, Galileo's travels into the future and his musings there - looking back to his life and scientific findings, his relation to religion and the church - are all made-up. 

While others hated these time travel parts or disregarded them, it was the exact opposite for me. While the SF plot didn't do much for me, Galileo's disscussions brought a very fine reflection about himself and his time - cf. the citations above. Having read those allowed me to understand much more than just following the historical narration.

The novel is KSR's (only) work using a special SF trope, namely time travel. I won't discuss the relation to his otherwise tendency to Hard SF, but I guess that he wanted to check every subgenre of SF with its own novel. I've seen far better usages of time travel with more interesting ideas around it, and the whole novel itself isn't the author's best work. But I highly enjoyed it, and welcomed the character of Galileo Galilei.

Highly recommended for fans of the author interested in the main protagonist. There's lots of action in it, great characters, and an interesting way of interleaving future and the past. 
Profile Image for Katherine.
Author 7 books54 followers
April 22, 2012
All right, I can't stand it anymore. I still have 80 pages to go, but I honestly don't care about any of the characters, and can't bring myself to slog through the rest of the book, book club or no. This has got to be the worst story I've ever read that was written by a purportedly professional author. It's infected with some of the most hideous bloat I've ever seen-- cutting out about 200 pages of nonsense would probably improve it. The "historical" parts are like a biography of Galileo tweaked by some amateur writer into an "educational" novel form-- it's like Robinson shoved in every fact he learned about Galileo, his family, and the time period without bothering to trim out all the bits that weren't at all relevant to his story. For every scene there's a sizable chunk of narrated exposition-- pages and pages, detailing months or years, that could have been condensed to a few lines or even cut entirely. The "earthbound" Galileo isn't even a proper character most of the time-- just a caricature of the historical person-- which is unfortunate given that he's supposed to be the main character.

The "space" bits are a little more interesting. There are two main threads-- the time-travel/history-manipulation thread, and the smaller (but more important??) "planetary intelligence" thread. Unfortunately they're not really well developed-- they're buried in a lot of nonsense about endless walks through hallways and endless trips on a spacecraft that takes forever to go anywhere. There's a character called Hera who takes it on herself to therapize Galileo by finding his "trauma nodes" and forcing him to relive certain key traumatic memories, apparently so he can become enlightened and...? She's also supposed to have a sort of semi-romantic relationship with him, which mostly comes across as creepy and grotesque. (If you describe your character's hernia in revolting detail, and then write a scene where he's running around naked in a boar's-head mask and an iron hernia truss, then I will not be seeing him as a romantic prospect for ANYONE-- especially if you follow it quickly with another scene that deals with his intimate bodily functions. Gross, Robinson. Ew.)

Again, I didn't read to the end, so I don't know if the book gets any better in the last eighty pages. I expect someone can tell me what happened tomorrow. This is not a book I would have read of my own volition, and I can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone.
Profile Image for Alan.
1,085 reviews106 followers
April 10, 2011
Eppur si muove, come la Terra mi emoziona.

Time travel fiction is, at its heart, primarily a literature of regret. Oh, there is the occasional pure travelogue, to be sure; the odd parody played for laughs; and the even rarer voyage of self-discovery... but for the most part, why send some hapless schmuck through time at all, but for the opportunity to step twice into Heraclitus' river, to redirect its flow—to change those things that might not have to have been?

And, usually, to find out that altering events to positive effect isn't all that easy.

Immediately engaging, raffish and a bit ramshackle, occasionally downright raunchy but also contemplative and far-reaching, Kim Stanley Robinson's Galileo's Dream confronts that impulse to correct the course of events, shuttling forward and backward in time to that pivotal series of events in the history of early science: Galileo's discovery of the moons of Jupiter, advocation for the Copernican model of the solar system, and subsequent trial for heresy. The combination of a far-future Jupiter worthy of Arthur C. Clarke and a pungent, earthy Renaissance Italy illuminates our fumbling present as only the best science fiction can. I was reminded of Jack Dann's "secret history" of Leonardo da Vinci, The Memory Cathedral, which I read several years ago—itself a good novel, carefully written and meticulously detailed. Compare also Rudy Rucker's As Above So Below, another exhaustively-researched foray into historical reconstruction by a noted sf author.

Robinson vividly evokes Galileo's Italy, a tumultuous collection of warring city-states in which cardinals brawled in the streets, Venice vied with the Vatican (see, for example, this brief history of Veronese's 1573 painting, "Feast in the House of Levi," whose original title was "The Last Supper" until Veronese ran afoul of the Inquisition), and intrigue was the preferred mode of political interaction. This is the era that gave us the adjective "Machiavellian," after all, and made the Medicis and the Borgias into household names.

Galileo's Dream is also unafraid to engage deeper questions. Though it's obvious where Robinson's sympathies lie, the novel's depiction of the conflict between science and religion is surprisingly nuanced, and not at all as one-sided as one might expect. Galileo was a devout Catholic, after all, and he saw his experiments as devoted to the discovery of God's handiwork—by his own lights, he was not a heretic at all.

But Galileo's Dream is not—or, at least, not solely—a scholarly work of historical fiction, though it is that as well. Robinson's novel is also a grand work of speculative fiction, able through the device of those Jovian observers (so similar to the disputants in Galileo's own works) to explain for Galileo (and hence for the reader) a sophisticated understanding of the universe we live in as a "manifold of manifolds," a continuum in which past and future coexist, influencing each other in a great multi-dimensional tapestry. This accords well with my own evolving view of the evolving universe, as well as with contemporary (if that word's at all valid anymore) physics, and in this Galileo's Dream reminds me also of Tim Powers' underappreciated Three Days to Never, which treats on the same subject though from an utterly different direction. Robinson's novel proceeds in expanding rings of physical, temporal and sheer mental scope, raising the stakes repeatedly after each temporary lull.

There is such a wealth of detail here, in fact—both historical and scientific—that sometimes it seems a little overwhelming, and I think it may have confused a lot of the readers who have reviewed the book here. The inexorable (if it must be so) movement towards Galileo's epoch-making trial is often nearly obscured by the minutiae of his medical conditions and daily grumblings. (I've had a hernia myself, as it happens, and found the descriptions of Galileo's especially disconcerting.)

Of course, "one always hopes for more than one hopes for," as Robinson himself says as Galileo on p. 316. Galileo's Dream, though, comes very close to granting all for which one might wish.

I suspect that this passage, late in the novel (p.481), is not so much from Galileo's perspective as from Robinson's own dream:
"Any event in history that gets more crowded the longer you look at it—that's the sign of a contested moment, a crux that will never stop changing under your gaze. The gaze itself entangles you, and you too are one of the changes in that moment."
When I was done with reading this book, I felt like that, too, at least for awhile... and I wanted to be a better person, the kind of person who could affect the grand unified tapestry of past, present and future for good, and not for ill. That's a powerful feeling, and a rare one for me to get from a book these days.

This may well be Robinson's best book—at least, in this universe.
Profile Image for M.G. Mason.
Author 9 books71 followers
August 18, 2012
This latest novel from Kim Stanley Robinson is at once both identifiable as Robinson's unique brand of philosophical science fiction and a departure from his work. In some ways it feels more like a homage to the early works of the likes of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

It starts as a simple biography of the first true scientist as he first observes and then shows others the miracles he can observe through his telescope. But one night a mysterious stranger asks Galileo to take a look at his device. Galileo obliges and finds himself transported to another world: Europa in the 30th century to be precise. The Galilean moons are home to human factions currently arguing over whether scientific knowledge should be advanced by attempting to communicate with an advanced intellect that lives beneath the surface of the icy moon. The occupants of Europa require the assistance of Galileo to stop it happening and talking the other representatives out of their plan. This particular plot in so many ways reflects what is happening to Galileo in the 16th-17th century by mirroring in theme each phase of his engagement with the Vatican. He doesn't make one trip; instead he flits constantly between the two worlds to allow real-world events to happen before he is whisked back to Jupiter.

This is a "warts and all" look at Galilei Galileo. Far from portraying him as a Saint for the secular thinker, he is shown as a short-tempered bully, an excessive drinker, a womaniser and sometimes a fanatic whose single-mindedness in overturning the Ptolemaic model leads him to push his daughters into a convent without much thought for anything else. Also, we get an intriguing insight into the world of Vatican politics as a succession of popes are confronted with the problems of the age; not just Galileo but the impending 30 years war and other religious conflicts.

There is a moral tale at work too. The Europans are attempting to manipulate Galileo for their own end, pushing him further in order that he is burnt at the stake to become a secular martyr. Their ultimate goal is to end the war between religion and science quickly. Galileo feels uneasy at this; after all he always considered himself a good Catholic. In real life he died a sick man under house arrest having been brow-beaten into recanting.

Not only is this an intriguing and thoughtful novel, it is also quite fun. We delight at the sense of adventure as he explores the four primary moons and confronts the sentient being that lives in the Jupiter system. I really cannot fault this book.

See more book reviews at my blog
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,906 reviews1,234 followers
July 29, 2010
There is a theory that views all of history as the result of actions by individuals at pivotal moments. These "Great Men" (or, let's be fair, "Great People") are the movers and shakers of historical periods. Leaders like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Elizabeth II, and Napoleon Bonaparte shaped society. Scientists like Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, and yes, Galileo Galilei shaped our perception of the world. These are the people whose mark lasts long on history, or so we think. I do not subscribe to the Great Person Theory. It appeals too much to our individualism and our love of anecdotal explanations. We are creatures who like nothing better than a story, and the episodes from the lives of these Great People make for great stories. Assigning all, or even most of, the responsibility for historical change to these individuals is simplistic.

So whenever someone comes along and proposes that history would be different if, say, Galileo had burnt at the stake, I wonder: aside from the tautological sense, would history truly change if this happened? Of course, we don't know, and we probably can't ever know. Such counterfactual speculation remains just speculative, which is probably why I enjoy it so much.

Kim Stanley Robinson plays a bit to the Great Person Theory in Galileo's Dream. I wouldn't go so far as to say the book propounds it, because Robinson's model of time travel accommodates alternatives. Rather, many of the characters from the 31st century who travel into the past to alter it—commit "analepses" in the book's terminology—subscribe to this theory. Thus, Ganymede tries to ensure science's dominance over religion first by aiding Archimedes; when that does not go well, he moves on to Galileo. However, he does not want to help Galileo. He wants Galileo to burn at the stake, to become a martyr for the cause of science.

It's a profound thought. Galileo's heresy trial is an infamous moment in the history of science and the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Often we envision it as a moment of ignorance—or arrogance—triumphing over justice. Galileo was found guilty of "vehement suspicion of heresy" and forced to recant any belief in the Copernican model of the solar system, a model we have since adopted as the preferred one. We have the advantage of hindsight, however, and Pope Urban VIII did not. He was embroiled in ongoing enmity both within the Catholic Church and between Catholics and Protestants. His enemies, many of whom did not much like Galileo, accused him of being soft on heretics.

Robinson emphasizes the political climate around Rome at the time of Galileo's trial. Galileo's Dream shows how his trial was more than just a matter of science versus religion (although it was that); Galileo's fate was as much a matter of political expediency and political expectations than justice or injustice. In an era where many of the highest-ranking clergy were related by blood, Galileo's trial involves more than testimony. It was an intense episode of intrigue conducted across family lines. Galileo called in favours for services rendered, and his friends marshalled his crumbling support base.

There is more to Galileo than his trial, of course, and the book follows Galileo from Padua to Florence. We share in his hope that the patronage of Duke Cosimo de Medici will give him the freedom to tinker and experiment. We experience his anxiety over the fates of his children: his two daughters have been destined for a convent since birth, but the convent they enter is impoverished and their health suffers as a result; his son is lazy and unaccomplished. And then there's his mother. Apparently insane (or just very mean), Giulia is a thorn in Galileo's side, one that he cannot remove.

Despite such hardships, his continuous illness, and his troubles with Rome, Galileo's life wasn't that bad. He had some money; he had family (no matter how difficult at times); he even got recognition for his ideas as well as scorn. The telescope was a pretty neat invention; his experiments involving incline planes were neater still. I get a sense that Galileo was, like many scientists, a discovery junkie, always hooked on the next big idea.

So far I have mostly just been gushing about Galileo. That's because Galileo's Dream offered me a rich look at his life. Though not without fault, this book's depiction of Galileo was diverse and thoughtful, and it has made me want to learn more about Galileo through other sources (such as non-fiction). I love it when books make me think, question, and want to learn more.

The historical parts of Galileo's Dream, then, are exceptional. What of the science-fictional elements? Time travel! Visits to a far-off future of Jovian colonization! Encounters with extraterrestrial intelligence! Compared to the chapters set in 17th-century Italy, the adventures of Galileo in space are lacking. It seems like I'm not the only reviewer who has noticed this.

The characters and society of 31st century are very vaguely described. We meet only a handful, and they refer to various councils—presumably democratic—who are quite ineffective in the crisis of the moment. Ganymede is the one who begins bringing Galileo into his future, ostensibly as some sort of rallying symbol for his quest to stop the Europans from contacting the intelligence in their ocean. Soon enough the people who initially oppose Ganymede's analepsis begin bringing Galileo forward quite frequently. They educate him in all of mathematics and science since his time, then wipe his memories when they create a debilitating sense of déjà vu. But each time Robinson latches onto a plausible reason for Galileo's visits to the future, such as the intermittent attempts to communicate with this strange intelligence, the story pushes the reason aside and stubbornly returns to a discussion of the philosophy of time travel.

What we have here is, rather than a lack of exposition, misplaced exposition. Robinson spends all of Galileo's time in the future explaining time travel and not enough explaining the 31st-century society. Since we never learn much about the society, it is difficult to care about the politically-motivated action sequences or the attempts to contact the Jovian intelligence. Galileo's visits offered little of interest, and I found myself wishing for a swift return to the past.

As far as Robinson's time travel mythology goes, I'm ambivalent. On one hand, it is confusing, and Robinson resorts to vague, semi-philosophical explanations rather than any solid, say, physics. On the other hand, time travel, if it is even possible, is bound to be confusing, so I don't think I can fault him for that. Yet the time travel in Galileo's Dream disappoints me, because it doesn't change much. As far as I understand it (and maybe I'm wrong), Galileo didn't "originally" (always a dangerous word to use when discussing timelines) burn at the stake, but Ganymede wanted to change his present by ensuring Galileo did. Since the book ends with Galileo not burning (and also burning . . . but that's a couple of chapters of explanation), nothing much has changed. Oh, we've got some time travellers stranded in the past, and then there's the question of whether Galileo would have stumbled upon telescopy without Ganymede's prompting . . . but it's not enough for me.

The narration of the book is odd, because it is seemingly in third person for the entire book—but first-person pronouns occasionally sneak into the text. In the end, we learn that Cartophilus, Galileo's servant from the future, is the author of the text. He refers to himself as "Cartophilus" in the third person because this is just a role he plays, albeit one he has played for a long time. However, like the time travel, this doesn't add much to the book.

Galileo's Dream reads like two books, one historical and one science fiction, united by the mind of a single man, who was a great man if not a Great Man. It contains a fascinating look at Galileo and a . . . not so fascinating possible future. What will stay with me overall is its depiction of the human struggle to discover, as well as the obstacles that one must overcome during the discovery.

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Profile Image for Bruce.
156 reviews5 followers
March 16, 2010
This is an epitome of the depths that modern science fiction plumbs. In this instance, fiction is actually less entertaining than fact.Anyone interested in the life of Galileo would serve themselves better with a work such as Dan Hofstadterś The Earth Moves, which is not only more accurate than this but considerably better written and a better read by about 10 dB. If one is interested in physics then I would suggest a good textbook, such as any of Halliday and Resnick´s books, all of which are better reads and have fewer errors. I fear the best I can say about this is that Mr. Robinson has done a quite good job of portraying the hernia.
Profile Image for Ryan.
976 reviews
December 20, 2020
Published in 2009, Galileo's Dream is Kim Stanley Robinson's first novel after the Science in the Capitol/ Green Earth trilogy. Is Galileo's Dream, which is about Galileo's astronomical findings and founding of scientific experimentation, also a climate change allegory?

It is.

It's tricky to remember the status of science in the USA during the George W. Bush administration (2000-2008). It was an administration that sought many wars, including a war on science. Not only was climate denial just as prominent then in conservative circles as it is now—Bush famously withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol—but the stem cell controversy was at its height, as was the rosary clutching over the teaching of evolution in high school. At the time, some Christians felt science teachers should teach evolution alongside intelligent design or creationism. In his engaging memoir, Decision Points, Bush reflected that "At its core, the stem cell question harked back to the philosophical clash between science and morality." I always found this comparison off-putting—not science and conservative religious dogma but science and morality?

It is not surprising that KSR would, when thinking about things to write about, turn his attention to Galileo, who was tried for heresy for finding evidence for the Copernican model, which holds that Earth goes round the sun. In a November 2009 interview with Terry Bisson at Shareable, KSR explained
“...The Republican Party in the USA has decided to fight the idea of climate change (polls and studies show the shift over the first decade of this century, in terms of the leadership turning against it and the rank and file following), which is like the Catholic Church denying the Earth went around the sun in Galileo’s time; a big mistake they are going to crawl away from later and pretend never happened.”
In Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes provides a history of the relationship between the GOP and climate denial. Ironically, there is a not-difficult-to-find discourse amongst conservatives that they're being silenced by politically correct twitter mobs. Although I'm not wild about social media (I recommend Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed and Andrew Marantz's Antisocial for more detail), I still wonder who is being silenced when I read about Michael Lewis's account of the DT administration taking over the Department of Energy:
Pyle eventually sent over a list of seventy-four questions he wanted answers to. His list addressed some of the subjects covered in the briefing materials, but also a few not:

Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings?

Can you provide a list of Department employees or contractors who attendance any of the Conference of the Parties (under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in the last five years?
In The Fifth Risk, Lewis shows that this strategy was followed in multiple federal agencies.

It seems to me that George W. Bush's assertion that science and morality are at odds is, charitably speaking, an over-simplification. In fact, as I've read a variety of texts about the Renaissance, Reformation, and Counter-Reformation this month, I've often wondered if there hasn't been a stronger conflict between religion and morality. For much of Galileo's Dream the hero tries to avoid being burnt at the stake, choking on his own blood because a spike has been driven through his tongue. At first Galileo tries to find a compromise, explaining that:
There is no contradiction between science and Scripture […] and even if there were, as God made both nature and Scripture, the problem would then be with the details of the Scripture, or with our poor understanding of it. Because the two cannot disagree, as God made both, and He can’t be logically inconsistent. And the Earth goes around the sun, with all the rest of the planets. So that is true, there is nothing blasphemous in it.
But by the end of his life he is put on trial anyway. In the end, he is not sentenced to death but is rather confined. I was not thrilled to read this exchance, however:
"His Holiness the Pope forbids you to continue to petition the Holy Office in Florence for freedom of movement, or else you may be removed to your prison at the Holy Office in Rome."

"I have been trying to get permission to go into Florence to see my doctors."

"You are forbidden to try."
Not the church at its most compassionate. At one point, Galileo writes to his friend that "Of all the hatreds, none is greater than that of ignorance for knowledge."

Although my summary of Galileo's Dream may present the novel as a bit stern or didactic, that is my failing not Robinson's. By the end, Galileo remains a devout catholic and he finds protestants confounding. After one conversation with John Milton, Galileo reflects: "that there were men who were both highly intelligent and deeply stupid. He had been that way himself for much of his life, and so now he was a bit more tolerant than he would have been in years past." It is an invitation to be compassionate towards others, which sounds easy but which can sometimes be a tall order.

In fact, for KSR, a moral life is a still taller order. In The Years of Rice and Salt, KSR uses reincarnation and the jati, which rises and falls together, to suggest that all of our boundaries are illusions. The sociologist Emile Durkheim argues that religions are more a structure for identifying in-groups and out-groups than a code of universal conduct or a process by which people save their immaterial self. So KSR has his characters break down those in-group/ out-group barriers until only radical compassion remains. In Galileo's Dream, he goes a step further and uses some fancy quantum physics to break down boundaries of time between people who exist in the present, past, and future.

Which brings us back to climate change, in which the actions of a few nations can cause problems for all of the others. Should people in the global north emit carbon dioxide or establish fossil fuel extraction companies in the Arctic if they know people in the global south will suffer more than they do from it? And what about the lives of future generations? Do they matter? Scientists seemed to reach the following consensus decades ago: those fossil fuels should not be extracted; the lives of people in the global south do matter; the welfare of future generations does matter. Curiously, the church has recently arrived at a similar position in their "On Care for Our Common Home" document.
Profile Image for Tomislav.
957 reviews68 followers
April 26, 2020
There are really two stories in the book - The larger one is a fictionalized biography of Galileo, and the other is a far future human society in the Galilean Moons of Jupiter. The Jovians have developed the ability to pluck Galileo into their own time for short periods and draw him into a conflict of their own - returning him usually after administration of an amnesia drug that leaves him with only vague feelings of presque vu. I found I was far more interested in the biographical account of Galileo's life and heresy trial, than in the somewhat flaky and thinly developed Jovians. It's a shame the book is so imbalanced, because Kim Stanley Robinson is capable of writing detailed and comprehensive futures societies. That said, I always appreciate the KSR's prose and learn new vocabulary in his writing. So I give this a moderate but not enthusiastic thumbs-up.
36 reviews2 followers
March 8, 2014
This book is a bloated disaster. As somebody who is fascinated by the development of natural philosophy in the 17th century (albeit as an enthusiastic amateur), I found Robinson's contempt for historical context almost as offensive as his view of ideal science as a mixture of bloodless phenomena-saving and new age spiritual pap. Here he is explaining Galileo's approach to his Two New Sciences:

Whereas on the other hand, with these simple propositions about motion, force, friction and strength, he could stick to only those assertions that he had demonstrated by experiment. After all the guesses about comets and stars and sunspots, about buoyancy and magnetism and all the fascinating mysteries he did not have any basis for comprehending, that were in the end the equivalent of astrology, it was a tremendous pleasure to write down only what he had seen and tested.

So speculation is bad. Stick to the facts! And yet on the very next page:

The attributes “equal,”“greater,” and “less” are not applicable to infinite quantities. Amazing the force which results from adding together an immense number of small forces. There can be no doubt that any resistance, so long as it is not infinite, may be overcome by a multitude of minute forces. Infinity and indivisibility are in their very nature incomprehensible to us; imagine then what they are when combined. Yet that is our world.

So speculation is fine, so long as it sounds vaguely scientific but is actually sufficiently meaningless as to pose no challenge. (These comments apply to Robinson of course, not to Galileo.)

Of course no historians accept that Galileo's ideas in Two New Sciences or the Dialogue were based exclusively on controlled experiment, as is perfectly obvious from the text of the Discorsi. 17th century science was by necessity logical and speculative as well as quantitative and mathematical, and many of Galileo's experiments were thought experiments. Robinson can't quite accept this idea, leading to all sorts of howlers. The people from the Jovian future talk about Galileo facing the Inquisition for stating "an obvious truth", although heliocentrism was not an "obvious truth" in 1616 or 1632. Later Newton is described as having introduced "a fourth dimension" -- time -- to physics. Newton, an Arian Christian, of course had the same linear view of time as all the great thinkers of the 17th century including Galileo. What did Newton actually introduce to physical thinking? Such a great theme for a sci-fi novel, but it would take a much better and smarter writer than Robinson to explain it.

Robinson's treatment of Kepler really scrapes the bottom. Kepler was Galileo's exact contemporary and managed to promote Copernicanism his whole life from what was then the best intellectual patronage position in Europe. Moreover he was a much more influential thinker, and a better one, on the subject of technical cosmology. This makes Robinson's case for Galileo as the hero and legitimizer of Copernican astronomy somewhat problematic, and so Robinson gets around the problem in the age-old way by dismissing Kepler (or having Galileo dismiss him) as "crazy". Given Robinson's near-constant presentation of scientific insight as new agey handwaving (not to mention the near total lack of historical evidence that Galileo viewed Kepler negatively) the sneering at Kepler for views that Robinson wrongly identifies as mystical woo is pretty rich. Not to mention cramped, unkind, and solipsistic.

So much for history. The sci-fi bits of the story are generally more entertaining as Robinson describes the future of science as a combination of Sokal Hoax candidate feminist theory, shaky post-quantum-physics-for-poets, and old chestnuts like cosmic harmonies, color wheels, and conic sections. The plot doesn't matter or make any sense so I won't describe it. Suffice it to say the futuristic characters from 30th century Jupiter talk incessantly like this:

Nonlocality means things happening together across distance as if the distance were not there, and we have found nonlocality to be fundamental and ubiquitous. In some dimensions, nonlocal entanglement is simply everywhere and everything, the main feature of that fabric of reality. The way space has distance and time has duration, other manifolds have entanglement.

My favourite bit comes right the book's romantic climax, in which Galileo is fucked by "the mother goddess" (a woman named Hera, his equal in every way) in a divine harmony of transcendant post-patriarchal something. Afterward:

Galileo watched her, transfixed. She was big and muscular, her female curves parabolic volumes in space, an ultimate reality.

Baby, you remind me of rolling a ball off the edge of a table, or a comet that just escapes the sun's gravitational force...

Naturally, this nonsense is eventually put in the service of Robinson's cod-spiritual take on the conflict between reason and religion. After some hedging, it is (1) that belief in God is really a manifestation of our ESP about and hankering for future human accomplishment and (2) that Galileo's conflict with the Inquisition was historically necessary because otherwise science and religion might not have been sufficiently rendered asunder which for some reason would have led to more war and probably also more creation museums. Almost 600 pages and that's the great takeaway.

In the final analysis though the problem with this book is that it's impossibly tedious (especially the last 200 pages on Galileo's Inquisition Trial and its aftermath) unless you accept the premise that the Galileo Affair was the most important event in the history of thought, the pivotal clash of authority and freethinking, the bloody birth of modern secular science etc. I don't accept this view. Galileo was, and explicitly chose to be, an intellectual client of a powerful court who, on two occasions in his career, misjudged his position and overstepped his boundaries, the second time effectively insulting his most powerful patron in print at a time when that patron felt politically vulnerable. It's not surprising that a man of Galileo's intellectual stature would chafe against the requirements imposed on an early 17th century intellectual client, but nor is it surprising that he suffered the predictable and common consequences of rebellion: falling from favour and thus losing patronage. Those consequences didn't depend much on whether the offended court was sacred or secular. If anything, the relative democracy and trial by committee of the Roman curia likely spared Galileo from the wrath he would have experienced had Urban been a secular absolutist prince.

Of course, Galileo wasn't just a run of the mill courtier or a standard court mathematician. As Robinson declares over and over, Galileo was fascinating, transformative, sui generis. But what made him great, exceptional, was the work he did, the ideas he had, not the grubby and context-specific details of his political rise and fall. Galileo the proto-scientist deserves to be the subject of a great novel. Instead, and sadly, Galileo the modern "martyr for science" will probably always be put in the service of unimaginative presentist horseshit like this.
Profile Image for Bill.
408 reviews96 followers
June 6, 2020
I consider this an historical fiction about Galileo, the first scientist. It explores his life in some detail, including many friends and supporters, his loves and family, his personality. It include his conflict with the controlling church and its pope. It includes his science and the writing of his books. In contrast is his travel to the future where he learns new math and science, helps to solve problems and whose life is meant to change.

I feel I know Galileo as never before. Recommended.
Profile Image for Amanda.
704 reviews96 followers
July 14, 2010
Publisher's Blurb (courtesy of Harper Voyager): Late Renaissance Italy abounds in alchemy and Aristotle, yet it trembles on the brink of the modern world. Galileo's new telescope encapsulates all the contradictions of this emerging reality. Then one night a stranger presents a different type of telescope for Galileo to peer through, enabling him to see the world of humans three thousand years hence. Galileo will soon find himself straddling two worlds, the medieval and the modern. By day his life unfurls in early seventeenth century Italy; by night he is transported through dimensions of time and space no other man of his time could possibly comprehend. Inexorably, Galileo faces trial for religious crimes in his own time, while in the new world he discovers, where science assures men that they can perform wonders, but does not tell them what wonders to perform, he is revered.

Galileo's Dream is, first and foremost, a masterclass in how to write historical fiction. Much of the novel is based in Renaissance Italy, following Galileo at what most consider to be the height of his fame before he is embroiled in disputes with the Church. Life in Italy, the importance of religion, the baby steps being taken towards scientific understanding - all of these are brought to glorious life, with wonderful descriptive passages and the use of Galileo's letters to enforce the events he was living through. I confess that I would have been hugely satisfied with an historical novel that purely explored the life and times of Galileo.

Kim Stanley Robinson, however, intersperses the historical passages with brief visits to the far-flung moons of Jupiter - Galileo travelling through both time and space to discover the colonised moons in 3020. To begin with, these passages felt as though they were shoehorned into the novel in a clumsy fashion, with the reader suffering the same confusion as the Galileo of this novel must have suffered. The passages set in the future were roughly sketched, the worldbuilding not living up to the meticulously researched historical sections. Eventually, you become used to the rough transitions, but I never enjoyed them, and I grew frustrated at the fact that each time Galileo returned from his future visits, his memory was partially cleared of events experienced in the future.

As well as the excellent historical sections, for me the greatest strength of this novel - the factor that gave it both humour and heart - was the stunning characterisation of Galileo Galilei. This is a man who infuriated many of his contemporaries - arrogant, stubborn, opinionated. A man who was liable to forget the day to day running of his household, who was able to commit his daughters to difficult lives. And yet also a visionary - a towering historical figure who gave so much to the world of science. All of this, and more, Kim Stanley Robinson manages to commit to paper - Galileo lives on through this novel.

Ultimately, then, Galileo's Dream is a richly rewarding read that I thoroughly enjoyed. My main issue with it is the pacing created by the dual storylines - this caused me no end of frustration because, at heart, I felt this should have been a straight historical novel. I would recommend this book to those who have even a passing interest in the progression of science. It is excellently written and the "frustrated genius" of Galileo takes centre stage.

Arthur Clarke thoughts: Hmm, Galileo's Dream is yet another solid entry into the short list of six books - and, once again (I feel I am constantly repeating myself in these short analyses) it is a completely different novel from the other five. It brings the science to science fiction, in this case - exploring actual science as well as taking us on a space opera journey to future worlds. It is massively deserving of its place as a finalist, not least of which because this novel shows the continual fascination with science that gave us science fiction in the first place (I think I have expressed that in a rather clumsy manner - but it is the truth that without men such as Galileo and Newton, we wouldn't have such a desire to look at what might be achieved through the use of science). Kim Stanley Robinson's enormous affection for his subject matter shines through, and gives us a novel which is possibly the most honest of the six. I don't think it will win - but I secretly want it to.
Profile Image for Omar.
16 reviews
January 14, 2010
I had mixed feelings about this book - largely because of expectations I'd developed reading previous KSR books.

Without revealing anything critical about the plot, KSR has come up with a mechanism by which he exposes his readers to Galileo Galilei's life in the 17th century while periodically pulling us forward to a time in roughly the 31st century.

I found KSR's take on the 17th century Galileo to be engaging and thought provoking in unexpected ways. I've been strongly affected by previous KSR books largely because of the way he's used epic scale stories unfolding in monumental settings as lens' into his equally vast, sweeping social and economic theories - all without losing the reader's intimate connections to characters that are carefully and intricately personalized. The 17th century thread in this book, however, eschews the panoramic setting in order to concentrate on Galileo's personal journey.

In my mind, he succeeds thoroughly in this approach. He draws the reader into his depiction of Galileo as a man wrestling to gain perspective on past personal traumas (many self-inflicted, through narcissism and blind privilege) while desperately trying to avoid future disaster. Meanwhile, he uses the events of the 17th century story line and some expositional elements of the 31st century story to give the reader a nice overview of the significance of Galileo's historical position, as the first human being known to have applied what we now call the scientific method. In short, humanity's first scientist.

Unfortunately, while the 31st century thread proves integral in advancing the 17th century storyline; it fails to compel, in and of itself. At first, it feels like a distraction. When it loses some of it's off-putting cartoonish-ness, it never succeeds in finding it's own draw. To me, it feels as though KSR came up with it as a way to develop the 17th century story; but was never able to come up with a good story to drive the 31st century thread forward.

In the end, however, I liked the book. I don't think it'll prove to have as much affect on me as the Mars trilogy did; but taken in the context of KSR's overall work, I see it as balancing the Mars Trilogy. While I never read the Three California's trilogy, I noticed the quality of his characterizations improved noticeably during the span of the Mars trilogy. This trend continues in the Science in the Capital cycle and seems (to me) to have reached a pinnacle with this book.
August 11, 2021
I am so often surprised at how much I enjoy KSR's books. This is one that I missed when it came out and I picked it up at a garage sale. What a gem.
I loved getting to know Galileo the man a bit and learn more about the political landscape.
He also pointed out how the Plague came through sometimes and they had to all wear masks! I won't list any spoilers, but this book is a must-read if you like KSR or if you are interested in understanding the universe and your place in it.
Profile Image for Redsteve.
1,048 reviews14 followers
July 26, 2022
Combination of a fictionalized (but highly accurate and well researched) biography of Galileo with a science fiction story (involving 31st Century Jovian colonies, time travel, and inscrutable aliens). I liked the Galileo parts pretty well, but the science fiction aspects didn't do much for me. Barely 3 stars.
Profile Image for Mark.
168 reviews2 followers
June 16, 2021
Robinson is great at showing how interesting science can be and how exciting it must have been for Galileo as he was making his discoveries. The science fiction element, while intriguing, was a little hard to follow, however.
Profile Image for Linda.
428 reviews28 followers
August 27, 2019
This is a hard book to talk about with spoilers but I'll try to avoid any plot points.

The good: the historical fiction parts that deal with Galileo's life
The less good: the far future bits

If nothing else this book makes me want to learn more about the life of Galileo. I realize that this icon of science is someone I know barely anything about other than the obvious things we learn in school.

Overall I enjoyed the book but I probably would have enjoyed it more had it been conventional historical fiction. Of course, then it would have been a completely different story.
Profile Image for Adam  McPhee.
1,239 reviews168 followers
March 15, 2016
A lot of righteous hate for Aristotelians.

There's essentially two novels here, one that follows Galileo from his early work with telescopes to his death, and a science fiction story about a time travelling Galileo's visit to the Galilean moons of Jupiter and first contact. A lot of heady philosophy which I'm in no mood to summarize, except to say that I really liked Hera's paradigm for manifold reality, with the three modes of time each being a dimension which we exist in simultaneously. No wonder KSR looks down on Christopher Nolan.

Reminded me in PKD's writing in a lot of ways.

Favourite lines:

Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews15 followers
March 6, 2014
one penny hardback brand spanking new first edition!

first line - All of a sudden Galileo felt that this moment had happened before - that he had been standing in the artisans' Friday market outside Venice's Arsenale and felt someone's gaze on him, and looked up to see a man staring at him, a tall stranger with a beaky narrow face.

Solid 3*. At points even a 4*, however some things just didn't sit quite right e.g the verbal anachronisms heaped upon Galileo's internal dialogue (The f word? ORLY!? Wouldn't swear words back then would have been the same as they are in Sweden still, religious profanities *shrugs*). A good biography, lots of splendid science, the historical period down to a tee (except that forementioned cussing and a question as to whether coffee was availible in Italy back then) so why not more than 3.5*? Since Moxysox has taught me to look for tone, I cannot not look for it and have discovered just how many books don't have it and this was the problem here.

Cherenkov Radiation


From wiki - The Accademia dei Lincei, (literally the "Academy of the Lynx-Eyed", but also known as the Lincean Academy), is an Italian science academy, located at the Palazzo Corsini on the Via della Lungara in Rome, Italy.

Founded in 1603 by Federico Cesi, it was the first academy of sciences to persist in Italy and a locus for the incipient scientific revolution. The academy was named after the lynx, an animal whose sharp vision symbolizes the observational prowess required by science. It was revived in the 1870s to become the national academy of Italy, encompassing both literature and science among its concerns.




Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition, painting by Cristiano Banti (1857)


This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Leanne.
580 reviews46 followers
May 30, 2017
I know it's only June, but this is without a doubt my top novel of 2017. It was an absolute tour de force. The portrait of Galileo is inspired. As the reviewer below stated so well, "This is a "warts and all" look at Galilei Galileo. Far from portraying him as a Saint for the secular thinker, he is shown as a short-tempered bully, an excessive drinker, a womaniser and sometimes a fanatic whose single-mindedness in overturning the Ptolemaic model leads him to push his daughters into a convent without much thought for anything else. Also, we get an intriguing insight into the world of Vatican politics as a succession of popes are confronted with the problems of the age; not just Galileo but the impending 30 years war and other religious conflicts."

Galileo was also shown as the devout Catholic, which he supposedly considered himself to be till the end.

Robinson has created a truly compelling portrait of the great scientist. And not only does he turn over the myth of Galileo as a martyr for science but he also actually weaves that myth into the story itself so that the Galileo of the novel walks between these two versions of Galileo. He illuminates some of the reasons that we might need such a flag-bearer for science in the guise of the future Europans. On this note, another reviewer, Gary K Wolf, has suggested, that this might just be the most memorable and compelling Galileo we have imagined yet, precisely because Robinson so expertly weaves in both some truth and some myth about the great scientist. I really agree with that.

The historical fiction part of the book--about Galileo's life and times, was my favorite part of the book for sure, but the other part of the novel--set in 31st century Jupiter and moons--was also really engaging. The images of the moons of Jupiters and the people who dwelled on them was fantastic. The topics of "time" and entanglement were great and thought provoking (astrophysicist husband was well satisfied) and the piece de resistance of this book was the set piece which had Galileo getting a crash course on quantum mechanics. I am now reading his newest novel New York, which is a let down after Galileo's Dream. But maybe anything would be a let down... LOVE LOVE LOVED this novel!
Profile Image for Abra.
538 reviews10 followers
January 16, 2013
I am fascinated by Kim Stanley Robinson (or KSR, as many of his fans seem to refer to him). He's a leftist. He writes (for me) more accessible science fiction than China Miéville, who is, however, much more explicitly socialist than Robinson. He's local-ish -- resident in Davis, CA. I just missed hearing him at a Writers With Drinks salon/bar evening, a couple of years ago. I like what he writes about -- future possibilities that extend really existing science much more than most sci fi, and that confront political problems for humans, like capitalism, violence, environmental depletion and castastrophe. But I was telling my mother this evening that I think this book, Galileo's Dream (2009) marks something of a step backwards for him politically. It might even be able to trace a backwards... let's say parabola, because he apparently likes those (not that I know, geometrically, whereof I speak, for sure) from his Red, Green, Blue Mars books, through the Forty, Fifty, Sixty novels, to this novel. At first, he seems to be speaking for revolution against capitalism (and his depiction of such a revolution, on Mars, thrilled me paradoxically because it was so realistically BORING! Endless meetings and consensus and a few rifles.) Then he moves to a quasi reformist take on how an elected Democrat with an environmental conscience and pure scientist thinktanks could help deter environmental catastrophe (that might be somewhat unfair... there's a whole Zen Buddhist thing in there, as well), and now, with Galileo's Dream, he seems to have retreated to measuring science against religion in history. I still liked the book very much, with its combination of a believable and humanist biography of Galileo Galilei and time travel to a possible future. Why are science fiction authors so fascinated by Jupiter, though? And Jovian intelligence?
Profile Image for Kate.
515 reviews29 followers
January 18, 2015
I really wasn't sure about reading this as I found the only other KSR "alternate history" book (Years of Rice and Salt) that I'd read not to be particularly enthralling. However, I'm glad I took a chance on this and got it out of the library.

I didn't know all that much about Galileo Galilei before reading the book, but KSR uses passages from GG's writings and also from those in church records and correspondence about him. These really give a flavour of GG as a man of his time, but also someone who had a flexible and inquiring mind who would have been equally at home in the modern world - which is entirely suitable as GG is considered to be the father of modern science.

The treatment of Galileo's relationship with his eldest daughter was particularly moving and enthralling. It is a shame that whilst her letters to him still survive, his letters to her were never found. It sounds like they were very close and

This is definitely a science fiction novel too - I won't go into those aspects of the book though, don't want to spoil it for new readers. I will say though that it does work, and KSR blends the past and the far future into one brilliant novel.

Profile Image for Janette.
Author 7 books15 followers
September 28, 2010
Lush, sweeping, meaty. Robinson manages to blend a most intimate story of Galileo the man with a grand exploration of quantum physics, the nature of reality and the human condition. I loved this book!
101 reviews1 follower
April 1, 2022
Science and religion have probably had an uneasy relationship from the beginning of human history but there are times when the contest became especially bloody and even absurd. In retrospect, religion has never come away with much honour. Galileo's Dream is the story of one such battle between a corrupt Roman Catholic church of renaissance Italy and Galileo, the bright star who perfected telescopes and was able to demonstrate the accuracy of the Copernican model of the solar system, namely that earth revolved around a stationary sun. A "vehement heresy" claimed the church, lashing out to control any public challenge to its grasp not only of theological truth but of civil order. In this era, the Roman church was beleaguered by militant Protestantism, war between Hapsburg and Bourbon kings and the emerging intellectual challenges of science. A cornered animal is a dangerous animal. Galileo was a towering figure, called by some the first scientist because his method privileged physical experimentation and measurement over philosophical speculation. He believed that reality was ordered and could be explained by mathematical concepts. His story, following his career from the court of Venice to his Florentine years and his passing, is the foundation for a wild science fiction ride through the ages from the ancient Greece of Archimedes to colonies on the Jovian moons in the year 3020. Robinson is a brilliant dreamer of worlds. The four main moons of Jupiter all express their unique character through their physical attributes. The future human who live there have the technology of gods. There is some brilliant writing on the history of mathematics and some truly interesting characters who are trying to use their advanced powers to set the world to rights in their future present and the human past with it's starting point at the life of the first scientist. Intertwined with the science fiction, is an unlikely love story between Galileo and a woman of the distant future, a beautiful family relationship between father and daughter and the story of time travelers living among the people of the day. There are scenes in the book that spark a sense of awe and scenes that bring tears. A great book in that way. And it is a book with a moral purpose, which I am generally a sucker for, as long as the writing is good. The fundamental moral issues of ignorance for knowledge, hierarchy and justice, the virtues related to temperance, war and the effects of the dark side of human emotions are all addressed. Here is a sense of the moral arc, summed up in the final paragraph. "And so when you feel strange, when a pang tugs at your heart or it seems like the moment has already happened - or when you look up in the sky and are surprised by the sight of bright Jupiter between the clouds, and everything seems stuffed with a vast significance - consider that some other person somewhere is entangled with you in time, and is trying to give some push to the situation, some little help to make things better. Then put your shoulder to whatever wheel you have at hand, whatever moment you're in, and push too! Push like Galileo pushed! And together we may crab sideways to the good."
Profile Image for Ginny.
348 reviews
March 18, 2019
I didn't know what the plot of this was going in, but I've enjoyed other books by KSR so when I saw it available on our local digital library, I decided to try it. And...whoa. Madness, sheer madness!
Profile Image for Aaron Adamson.
58 reviews26 followers
March 8, 2021
A beautiful, tragic, and inspiring portrait of Galileo and his role in setting human civilization on a new path guided by empiricism. The importance of being committed to reality and truth in the face of religious and political dogma is still disputed here and now, centuries later, and it’s shocking how much some of the arguments against Galileo resemble elements of our current national discourse.

The choice is still the same as it was in his time - is our primary loyalty to truth and reason? Or is it to faction, ideology, and the status quo?

Above and beyond that, though, this book presents Galileo as a uniting figure. Science, for Galileo, is how we come to know God. The simplicity and elegance of natural laws reveal the character of the architect of that reality. Rather than using Galileo’s story as a cudgel to humiliate the church as primitive and backwards, Robinson presents the story as a cautionary tale against religious dogma while also presenting science as Galileo understood it - a pursuit of the divine.
Profile Image for Denise.
Author 1 book28 followers
January 12, 2020
Took me a long time to get into this book. The first half is slow, as are the final chapters. Overall, a good read with interesting ideas. I especially enjoyed the overview of budding science in Galileo’s day and how far it has developed since, where it might lead, despite human stubbornness toward ignorance and violence.

“We are all history -we’re the hopes of people in the past, and the past of some future people- known to those people, judged by them, changed by them as they use us.”

Before humans go extinct, I hope they learn a few things and manage some lasting peace without diminishing curiosity or halting knowledge.
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