‘A triumph, with Robinson's gifts for characterisation and world-building firmly to the fore. His Galileo is wonderful: brilliant, irascible, sometimes hateful, and always fascinating. The finale is both stirring and melancholic, and a fitting tribute to science's most famous iconoclast.’ New Scientist
Praise for the Mars trilogy:
‘Staggering … Required reading for the colonists of the next century’ Arthur C. Clarke
‘The ultimate in future history’ Daily Mail
'One of the most impressive pieces of science fiction of the past ten years' The Economist
'Absorbing, impressive, fascinating… Utterly plausible' Financial Times
'One of the landmarks of American literature' TLS
'A beautiful book – to be lived in' Daily Telegraph
Q: What got you interested in Galileo?
A: When I wrote The Years of Rice and Salt
I did some research on the scientific revolution, in order to construct an alternative scientific revolution for my alternative history of a world without Europe. In that reading Galileo was very prominent, and as I read more it seemed to me he was ‘the first scientist’ in more ways than I had realized. This seemed to make him an interesting subject for a science fiction novel, so in the years after that I continued to read about him, and consider what kind of story might be constructed around his life. He was, among other things, a great character.
Q: Was historical accuracy important to you in writing about Galileo?
A: Very much so. Because of his own documentation of his life, we have an excellent account of him year by year, even month by month, and in general the documentation in Italy at that time was such that we know tremendously more about Galileo than we do about his contemporary Shakespeare, for instance. His biography is interesting in itself, and Vatican records are such that we even have a full transcript of his trial. All this was a resource to be used, and it would have been pointless to introduce inaccuracies into his story in a new telling. That being said, there are some real mysteries concerning why he did what he did, and what happened in his trial and why. This was suggestive, and it seemed to me possible to construct a story in which the surface particulars of his life were all exactly as in the historical record, but the ‘secret history’ or explanation for these events had to do with a hidden back story now revealed by my novel. This I suppose is becoming a regular sub-genre within science fiction, or the alternative history—the secret history—of what really transpired—you see it in Tim Powers’ novels quite often, and maybe even in The Da Vinci Code
(I haven’t read it so I can’t be sure). Maybe it should be called the back story, or the under-history. Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow
would be another example—the back story behind the end of WWII. And it’s also true that many time travel novels in science fiction go back into the historical record and either alter it, or make it come to pass as we know it (or both!).
Q: Galileo always maintained he was a good Catholic. Is there a spiritual aspect of science, a way to reconcile science and religion?
A: I think science is a form of devotion or worship, which says that the universe is sacred, holy, miraculous, and worthy of study as such. Galileo’s position is somewhat similar, I think, but always placed within his constant profession of Catholic faith, which I think must be accepted at face value. He saw no contradiction between his faith and science, and considered that his advocacy for the Copernican view might help to prevent the Vatican from making what would later appear a huge error. He was right about that but his view was not attended to. I think there are ways to reconcile science and religion, by considering them both as ideologies (imaginary relationships to real situations). They have their areas of focus, they could be parts of an integrated human vision. Life is sacred, life is interesting, life is worth protecting; these are values in both.
Q: You are on record as saying that visions of the future matter as ‘attempts to describe what we are working toward, or what we should avoid’. Does this apply to Galileo’s Dream though the story moves from the past to the future, leapfrogging the 21st century?
A: Yes, but indirectly. I thought by telling a story set in the distant past and the far future, I could put a different kind of lens on the present. The time travel element in my story allows for the contemplation of an array of different futures, some desirable and some not, and then the actions we might take now to get to the desirable ones might become clearer by way of the new angle of approach.
Q: You have been described as a utopian novelist; do you agree, and does the term apply to Galileo's Dream
A: I am a utopian novelist in my utopian novels, and I have written more than one, possibly even four of them, so it is a pattern that types me, which is fine; every artist gets branded one way or another, and I like my brand. However, Galileo's Dream
is not a utopian novel, except in the broadest sense that all science fiction is utopian, saying as it does that the future is coming and it could be better if we worked to make it so.
Q: Is entertainment your prime aim or do you want the books to do something more?
A: Entertainment is my prime aim—but my definition of entertainment is that it is something new, and something more than just stage business and repetition of the known. This is simply Aristotle: art is entertainment plus education. Novels are very obvious in this regard, they aim to entertain by telling stories about who we are and what life means. In that sense they shade toward science, as being case studies in human behavior. We have an almost infinite capacity for these case studies, they are the real entertainment.