This science fiction novel is heavy on historical fiction. I knew the outline of Galileo’s story – his breakthrough studies of the moons of Jupiter, endorsement of the then-radical theory that the planets orbit around the sun, and his condemnation by the Catholic Church. Kim Stanley Robinson provides a richly detailed portrayal of his life – his illnesses, peccadillos, endless family and money troubles, political machinations among the city-states of Italy, and conflict with the Church.
I hope Robinson (a king of hard scifi) did his usual-thorough research because his vision of Galileo will stay with me. I think he has – he even included translations of Galileo’s actual writings.
Galileo was a genius, but not a very pleasant man. His life in the novel ends as it did in reality. This isn’t Robinson’s fault, but he fully delivers the sadness and misery.
Science fiction enters the story when colonists on Jupiter’s moons repeatedly snatch Galileo into the future.
Some factions want to change their present by changing how his life turns out, while other factions want to keep things the same. There are enchanting visions of Jupiter and its moons, and what technology might be like in the distant future, but the Jovians’ story was unsatisfying. The relationships among the colonists were confusing and their story didn’t resolve very well.
I didn’t like this book as much as Amazon reviewers, who averaged 4 out of 5 stars. There was a lot of repetition in both Galileo’s and the Jovian’s stories. I skimmed through most of the book. I didn’t know who the narrator was until the end, though an occasional lapse from 3rd person to 1st person made me realize it wasn’t any of the main characters. That made the story a bit distant from Galileo at times, with the narrator sometimes knowing more than Galileo and sometimes less.
Don’t expect an easy, flowing read, but if you enjoy Robinson and history, give the book a try.
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