Galileo’s Defiance and Destiny in an Imagined Science Fiction Novel #scifi #historical #alternative #history

Galileo's Dream scifi novelThis 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 so – he even included translations of Galileo’s actual writings.

Galileo was a genius, but not a very pleasant man to be around. His life ends as it did in reality – which isn’t Robinson’s fault – but he fully delivers the sadness and misery.

Science fiction enters when colonists on Jupiter’s moons

Galileo's first telescope - a reproduction of the optics

My own reproduction of Galileo’s first telescope – it’s amazing he saw anything

repeatedly snatch Galileo into their 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 there 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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Colonizing Other Planets Not as Much Fun as You Think #review #scifi #books #amreading #sciencefiction #bookreview

The master of terraforming Mars sends colonists to a distant star system in Aurora. With his trademark attention to detail, the first quarter of Kim Stanley Robinson’s book takes you on a tour of the large rotating spaceship. The main character, Freya, travels through the biomes and towns, talking with most of the two thousand residents.

Freya is aboard a generational spaceship nearing the end of its 170 year voyage, and things are going subtly wrong with the ship and the humans onboard. People chaff under the discipline required to keep systems in balance – Robinson is as interested in the psychological aspects of the mission as he is in the technology. If you wonder what life onboard a generational ship might be like, this section of the book is for you.

They arrive at their destination and landing parties prepare buildings and greenhouses for the entire ship’s complement, but things go terribly wrong. Half way through there’s a twist I wasn’t expecting and the mission takes an unexpected turn.

Most of the book is narrated by the ship’s artificial intelligence which gives the story a somewhat cold feeling. The ship also muses on human language and – instructed by the chief engineer to prepare a narrative summary of the final part of their voyage – frets over the use of metaphors which it finds to be imprecise.

While Robinson has been described as “a novelist who looks ahead with optimism,” Aurora is deeply pessimistic regarding human beings and their technologies. The settlers suffer frustrating slow-motion disasters that they never completely understand and their society breaks down into battling factions.

This is not a book to read in a rush – I could only read for short periods of time in a sitting. Take it on vacation – it’ll last all week.

What others are saying
Aurora earns a respectable 3.5 stars from 635 customer reviews on Amazon, and places in the top 2% of Amazon’s sellers’ ranking for Hard Science Fiction. I wish I did as well with my novels.

Readers who liked Aurora called it “sad but greatly satisfying” and “awesome and depressing.” Those who didn’t found it “long winded” and “repetitive.” Robinson isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but no author is.

I’ve read a few of Robinson’s books and notice he likes the names Aurora and Pauline – and likes to point out that verbal metaphors can’t explain the physical world like math can. It’s fun to notice an author’s little quirks.

The quote above, “a novelist who looks ahead with optimism,” comes from the dust jacket of Robinson’s Galileo’s Dreams.

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