Dreaming About Galileo
Our usual recapper asked me to do this for Galileo’s Dream. I wish to state for the record that I will most likely not remember everything or get it right so please feel free to add and/or correct anything you wish. I will not be offended. Also, except for a few instances I am not going to use names but here is a shout out to Robin.
Several of us gathered to discuss Kim Stanley Robinson’s Galileo’s Dream, with Jon as our leader in Eugene’s absence. Most of us but not all finished the book. Several of us who finished it found certain parts slow going, something of a slog to get through to use Chris’ word.
There was some consensus that the book was more a biography of Galileo than anything else with the sense that the far future bits were included to make it science fiction. While somewhat interesting there seemed to be no resolution to the issues raised by these sections. It would have been nice to find out what if anything was accomplished by the meddling with the life of Galileo as it was recounted. We were also curious as to how much he remembered each time he traveled forward in time as that was not always clear. Many of us preferred the sections about Galileo mostly because the far future sections were unresolved and to some seemed tacked on, but without them this would not be science fiction.
Several of us also found the occasional interjection of ‘I’ or ‘we’ in the narrative jarring with no explanation until near the end when it is revealed that Cartophilus along with a few others from the household were actually “narrating” the story.
The main idea that Ganymede espouses which is that Galileo’s martyrdom will speed up the move from a society where religion dominates to one of science didn’t make sense to us. The religious climate of the time coupled with the church’s power to punish anyone they wish created a situation where it would seem that martyrdom or a trial and silencing would have the same effect. The church’s reach across kingdom/state lines and great wealth made the danger too high even for those who may have agreed with the so-called heretical views to actually express that view. The cost was too high.
In addition, the group of people who would have been able to understand these positions was very small. There was no mass education and most of the population could not even read. It was also noted that according to Robinson but which is most likely true that Galileo considered himself a good Catholic as many scientists of his day did. For him God’s hand was visible in the logic of creation and science. Just as it is for many religious people today there was no conflict for him between science and religion. It would not be until the Catholic Church began to lose its power due to the Reformation and the assertion of secular power by the different kingdoms and states separately from Rome that science could begin to advance.
The trial of Galileo as detailed appears to be accurate. The submitting of what appears to be false evidence as well as outright lying would not be unknown to the Inquisition which often relied on “anonymous” or falsified evidence. Galileo himself lies during his “trial” as recounted by Robinson. (Because I was curious I did some quick research on the trial and except for the falsifying of evidence which was not addressed in what I read, the trial did in fact proceed as Robinson described it).
We had some questions about the accuracy of some of the Galileo sections. According to Robinson in an acknowledgement at the end the quotes and other information are generally accurate although there is some editing and there are translation issues. We asked Jon about the science which led to a discussion of physics but pertinent to the book he did say that anything having to do with time travel is speculative.
Some liked the writing and liked the lack of mistakes except for the ones noted by Eugene in the mathematics. Others of us were not so fond of it. Most of us gave the book a five although there were a few 7s.