1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Curates Egg, but still brilliant,
This review is from: Galileo's Dream (Hardcover)
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This book is a bit of an odd mixture. Part semi-fictionalised biography of Galileo, part science fiction exploration of humanity's far future in the mould of Olaf Stapledon, it ends up reading like two almost separate books.
Robinson has written many novels exploring science, religion and the possible directions humanity has or might have taken. In particular the theme of how science and religion relate to on another (in the Western context at least) based around the life of Galileo makes a lot of sense, and the novel does a lot to explore not only how Galileo ran afoul of the Catholic church in his avowal of Copernican heliocentrism as opposed to the Church's official, Ptolemaic geocentrism. It is an interesting story, and more complex than the usual "religion versus science" story that it is usually simplified down to. And Robinson narrates this astutely and evocatively, exploring the complex web of political, religious and personal conflicts that led to Galileo's downfall.
Even more evocative are the descriptions of Galileo's first use of the device he would later christen the telescope, to discover that not only did Jupiter have four moons, but that Venus had phases like the moon. This latter was the definitive evidence that the Sun lay at the heart of the solar system. The genius of Galileo's' mind, drawing quick fire conclusions from basic evidence, able to make huge conceptual leaps with seemingly little effort is wonderfully captured by Robinson's narrative.
What lets the book down is the jumps forward in time where Galileo is dragged thousands of years into the future into another conflict between reasons and fear of the unknown amongst the scattered remnants of humanity living on the four Galilean moons of Jupiter. Robinson uses Galileo as an often uncomprehending witness of a far future events, in particular the confrontation between humanity and the unknown "other". While this is interesting, at times quite gripping and occasionally illuminating, it also jars and feels out of step with the rest of the novel. The reasons for Galileo's initial transport into the future seems poorly explored and perfunctory. For this disjuncture and weakness in plotting alone I am only giving this four stars.
Nevertheless, these sections allow Robinson to explore the different, and often hideous future paths humanity could take, where science is corrupted by power, religions, politics, money and ideology, setting Galileo's own persecution into a wider context of humanity's struggle to better itself.
The result is a flawed but brilliant novel. Sections are breathtaking and awe inspiring, others deeply moving and personal (the exploration of Galileo's' disastrous relationships with the women in his life is desperately sad), and if others seem out of joint with the rest, the whole still comes together in the end.