God is a mathematician…He [Galileo] would bring his hands together as if in prayer, and take a deep breath and expel it tremendously. To read God like a book, to solve him like an equation—it was the best sort of prayer.Galileo’s Dream reflects the author’s, Kim Stanley Robison’s, admiration and affection for Galileo Galilei, who many people consider the father of modern science. The novel was nominated for the 2010 Locus Science Fiction, Campbell, and Clarke awards. The novel is mostly historical fiction with some time travel and social commentary woven in. The novel is slow moving at time and not one that some types of science fiction reader—particularly those who like a lot of action or plot twists and turns—would enjoy. For those who appreciate good historical fiction like me, this is a fascinating novel to read.
Briefly, most of Galileo’s Dream is a story about Galileo’s life from shortly before he built his first telescope until after his death. Robinson attempts to give an honest portrayal of Galileo, his brilliance and his faults. We learn about his relationships with women and about his moods, particularly his anger. We also learn about his brilliant mind and his religious faith. Galileo’s Dream also has a time travel thread to it. Ganymede—and others from the future—try to manipulate Galileo in order to change the direction of future events. Galileo also travels to the Jovian moons in the 3020’s, during a crisis point in future human history. In some of these sections Robinson describes the nature of time and quantum physics.
Galileo’s Dream is also a book that can make the reader think in new ways. Interwoven in the story is the idea of science and power. Robinson shows this relationship in how Galileo was brought before the Inquisition because of his assertion that the earth revolved around the sun. Later, Robinson describes how the time-travelers are still trying to bring about a world where science is used for good rather than for gaining and keeping power. When I reflected on these ideas, I quickly thought about how current assertions about things like climate change and even what is carcinogenic have less to do with science and more to do with politics. How disillusioning!
For the most part, I enjoyed Galileo’s Dream and admire Robinson’s talent. There were a few times that I was impatient, especially with all the times Galileo was brought before the Office of the Inquisition. This reflects more on me than on the novel; historical novels and biographies have their slow moments. For the most part, the novel gave me a greater appreciation of Galileo and the gratitude we as a society owe him.