Galileo's Dream

by Kim Stanley Robinson

Paperback, 2010

Call number



Spectra (2010), Edition: Reprint, 544 pages


From the summit of their distant future, a charismatic renegade named Ganymede travels to the past to bring Galileo forward in an attempt to alter history and ensure the ascendancy of science over religion. Yet between his brief and jarring visitations to this future, Galileo must struggle against the ignorance and superstition of his own time.

User reviews

LibraryThing member RobertDay
Not an easy read, this book looks at the life of Galileo from the point at which he starts down the path that will lead him into conflict with the Catholic Church, the discovery of the moons of Jupiter and Galileo's subsequent promotion of the Copernican, heliocentric theory. This was considered
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heresy for proposing a fixed Sun and a moving Earth, in contradiction to Scripture. This account is interleaved with a science fiction story wherein Galileo is co-opted by far-future humans inhabiting the Jovian moons to bring a fresh perspective to political conflict regarding the discovery of an intelligence deep in the oceans of Europa, and others possibly elsewhere in the Jovian system.

Quite what Robinson was trying to achieve here, I'm uncertain. This is nearly a 600-page novel, so either story could have stood on its own; a biographical novel about Galileo or a science fiction story. The historical segments - which form the bulk of the book - are richly drawn and make Galileo into a very likeable character; we rejoice in his triumphs, we grasp his defeats, we share his personal tragedies and we feel his many ailments. Personally, I saw him being played by John Rhys-Davies, though I may have been subconsciously recollecting a Star Trek: Voyager episode where he did just that.

The science fictional episodes fit fairly seamlessly into the novel, and are supposed to make Galileo reflect on his travails in his own time. In the end, each informs his attitude to the other; the future Jovian humans see Galileo as "the first scientist" and so hold him in some degree of respect, though Robinson does make Galileo's development of the telescope something of a deus ex machina. This was probably necessary to kick-start the novel, but it wasn't necesary - as far as we know, Galileo was able to improve the telescope all by himself without any prompting from visitors from the future - so in reflection it doesn't ring entirely true.

There are occasional hints that the story is being narrated by a third party; the identity of this third party is revealed before the end of the novel buts adds little.

Two technical quibbles: the typeface in the Harper Voyager 2010 UK paperback edition has severe kerning issues, especially with full stops (and some proofreading failures); and Robinson uses the American word 'Fall' for Autumn throughout, which jars badly when we are reading text which otherwise evokes early 17th-century Italy.

SF writers have explored early science before; the immediate example that springs to mind is James Blish's study of Francis Bacon, 'Doctor Mirabilis'; but Blish wrote that as a straight historical novel. The two interlaced stories in 'Galileo's Dream' do enable the alternative consequences of Galileo's actions to be brought home to him very directly; but in the end, I was still left wondering quite what the point of the exercise was. Still, the quality of the historical parts of the novel shine through, and for that alone it was a worthwhile read.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
Recently, I was sort of following a debate going on in the science fiction community about the lack of optimism in sci fi these days. Honestly, I hadn't noticed that science fiction had been growing more pessimistic, since I tend toward downer books anyway. There is not much hope in your average
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dystopian or post-apocalyptic story. But it does make a certain amount of sense that science fiction as a whole would be growing more gloomy. Back in the Golden Age of sci fi, when we were just starting to contemplate space exploration and making fantastic technological innovations, the writing reflected the general mood: one of optimism and looking forward to a rosy future, where everyone gets their own jet pack or flying car. But as our cultural outlook grew more pessimistic, when we realized the havoc we were wreaking on our environment and the dark side of technology, of course the books got more pessimistic as well.

But I have to admit that Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Galileo's Dream made me feel downright dejected. It pits science in a battle against religion, and science does not win. The projected future for humanity is very bleak indeed.

Galileo's Dream is an intriguing blend of historical fiction and science fiction. It tells the story of Galileo's life from when he developed the telescope -- an idea that was suggested to him by a mysterious stranger -- to his death. When Galileo uses his new telescope to discover Jupiter's four largest moons, the stranger returns and transports him through time and space to one of those moons, 1,000 years in the future. (That's the science fiction part, in case you hadn't guessed.)

While Galileo's life story is interesting, and Robinson pays close attention to the historical details, the scenes on Jupiter's moons made for the most exciting reading. Robinson describes the moons with human settlements -- icy Europa, sulfurous Io, rocky Ganymede -- with loving precision, and the images of Jupiter hanging above them are awe-inspiring. There is also more action in the future scenes, as Galileo is dragged along by two factions fighting over how to deal with the discovery of an alien sentience in the ocean underneath Europa's ice shell, and I wish we had spent more time there.

It is not at first clear why Galileo was brought forward into the future, but it seems that the stranger -- whose name is also Ganymede -- is trying to manipulate Galileo's fate, in an endeavor to alter the course of human history. As the "first scientist," Galileo is a pivotal figure in the development of science and the efforts of religion to suppress scientific discoveries. He was accused of heresy for supporting the Copernican view that the Earth orbits the Sun and brought before the Inquisition. Apparently, Ganymede is trying to ensure that Galileo is burned at the stake for heresy, which will in some way help the cause of science. Human history has been so traumatic that the colonists on Jupiter's moons are suffering a permanent post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. No details are given; we don't even know if the Earth is still habitable in the future. But Galileo's unjust execution would result in more people accepting science and turning away from religion. For me, this story line and the reasoning behind it was somewhat muddled and hard to follow, which is the main fault I can find with this book.

Regardless, it's clear that even with the right outcome, things won't get better for humanity, just less bad. Humanity is so destructive, so doomed, that the horrors we visit upon ourselves can't be avoided entirely. They can just be mitigated. This view felt overwhelmingly pessimistic to me, although I can understand where Robinson is coming from. As an advocate for scientific approaches to mitigating climate change, Robinson must feel let down by the public's refusal to accept the evidence of global warming. Even in the early 21st century, science doesn't get much respect.

Galileo, ironically, is the most optimistic character in the novel, even though his final years weren't all that pleasant. He has no trouble reconciling religion and science, and he can accept the alien consciousness on Europa because he already believes in and respects higher beings. In science and mathematics, Galileo clearly sees the hand of God at work -- in the beauty of the simple ratios that occur naturally again and again. He relishes the act of understanding the natural world as a religious experience. Yet he lives in a brutal, uncertain, superstitious time.

Galileo's Dream is a meaty book that may require more than one reading to fully digest. I haven't even touched on the philosophizing about time and dimensions that goes on, which is all fascinating. But the net effect of reading it was so depressing that I'm not sure I'll go back for seconds.
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LibraryThing member VisibleGhost
I'm not really a fan of Alternate History and I'm not a lover of the time travel trope. However, KSR is one of those authors that fits me like a hand in a glove and I just ease into his writing and stories. This book also uses the historical fiction genre along with the aforementioned two.

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is portrayed as a lovable, cantankerous, ass. He'll wake up in a bad mood and holler at the servants, " Somebody get in here! I need to hit someone." Most of the household not only tolerate him but like him. He gets excited when he discovers something new then dances around house singing and yelling involving the household in his celebration. He's careless in showing off his intelligence and isn't careful when it comes to insulting others that disagree with him. He likes his food and wine and the party circuit. His attitude leads to the making of friends but also the making of enemies.

Travelers from the future find him in his time and whisk him off to Jupiter to intervene in the ongoing squabbles of humanity. Different parties are using him for opposing interests. Being curious, he wants to learn their math and science that is hundreds of years beyond his own. After these trips he is returned to his own times with a sort of mind wipe to forget said trips.

All this had the potential to get schlocky and campy but KSR is a pretty serious writer that tends to avoid those treatments. Instead he lets Galileo ponder things with his own set of intellectual tools. For the most part it works. The blend of alternate history, time travel, philosophy of science, and historical fiction might not work for everyone but in this case it worked for me.
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LibraryThing member housecarl
I found this to be a fascinating tale. Part historical fiction, it tells the remarkable story of the life of Galileo, the first scientist. But there is a science fantasy woven into the tale which puts it into a genre of its own. I have never read such a book, and would like to read more.
I had
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already read a fair amount about Galileo, including the fairly recent Galileo's Daughter, and knew the basic story of Galileo's persecution and trial by the Church. Robinson has a knack for making those historical figures jump out at you, and so I felt (correctly or not) that at the end I knew those characters much better than I did before reading the book.
Also, Robinson clearly has an understanding of how science and mathematics is practiced, and gives life to what might seem to be repetitive, mistake laden, dull laboratory work.
The science fantasy portion of the book (maybe 30%) could be interpreted as an attempt to explain away Galileo's genius by saying 'he had help', but that would be inaccurate. To the contrary, it is Galileo who is the hero who provides help to those from the future. I will say no more, other than to recommend this as a good read.
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LibraryThing member jmeisen
I very much enjoyed this fascinating book, but I think it might have worked better as a straight historical novel, or perhaps just with the time travelers occasionally visiting Galileo. The science fiction sections are much weaker — not nearly as good as I'd expect from Robinson — but
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fortunately they make up much less than half the book.

I loved the detailed texture of the historical sections, as well as learning about Galileo. Who knew he was such an a--hole? But I suppose that's not uncommon in geniuses. I could have done without the 31st-century portions, except for occasional memorable moments such as when Galileo sees a large group of Carnival revelers wearing Galileo masks.
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LibraryThing member buehler
Pretty awful book as a scifi novel. Nice read as a biography of Galileo Galileo.
KSR obviously did his homework researching Galileo's life and the struggle between science and religion, but it just doesn't work as a novel. All characters (other than GG) are flat and boring. Same for all the
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scifi'esque episodes that are set in some distant future.
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LibraryThing member JGolomb
I'm a huge fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Years of Rice and Salt" which is a terrific blend of pseudo science fictional philosophy and religion, and fun and entertaining alternative history. It's deep and touching and provides a strong sense of activity (if not specifically action and
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The concept behind "Galileo's Dream" drew me to the book the instant I read the description: Galileo is taken from Earth to the moons of Jupiter (which he discovered) in an attempt to modify the past to make for a better future. Unfortunately, while it's a fun concept, Robinson provides an uneven implementation.

The vast majority of the book follows Galileo over the course of 30 or 40 years through his major astronomical discoveries and inventions. His is, by far, the strongest character throughout the book that includes a mix of humans from the future, Galileo's daughters, and numerous other good and bad guys from 17th century Italy.

The first several times that Galileo is spirited away by "The Stranger" the table is set for a interesting view of human life in the future, living on a moons of Jupiter. I was settling in for a nice space/time travel ride but became disappointed and the increasingly shorter visits to space and the future, and the increasing focus on philosophies of time travel, it's impact on the past, and vagueness on the battles between science and religion.

These elements are interesting and good scifi fodder, however I found them to be bluntly addressed and not well balanced with the minute details of Galileo's daily travails and triumphs.

If you're interested in a solid period piece, with strong historical research and a decent story, then I'd recommend this book. But read with appropriately measured expectations.
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LibraryThing member callmecayce
I'm a huge KSR fan, thanks to my parents. I was so excited when I saw he had a new novel out. this book was extremely dense, but in a good way. The novel is about Galileo (yes, the man) and how he ends up traveling through time (seriously) in order to help a group of future humans. It's both
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touching and overwhelming. It took me longer than usual to read it because there's a lot going on and, of course Galileo doesn't understand what's going on through most of the book (though he tries and it's fantastic).
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LibraryThing member dragonb
I enjoyed the Mars trilogy more, but this book was very interesting. Have to go back and see how much of it is "History" and how much is imagination. Either way, it entertained. I really enjoyed the science, the conflict with the church. At first the "Science Fiction" part was very strange, but it
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grew on me.
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LibraryThing member PghDragonMan
While reading Galileo’s Dream, I had to keep checking the author’s name to be sure it really was Kim Stanley Robinson and not Neal Stephenson. Robinson has been very philosophic in other books of his I’ve read, such as Years of Rice and Salt, but I do not remember him being so overtly
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scientific before, to the point of delivering small lectures on Physics, Calculus and Astronomy. Through the mouth of Galileo, as penned by Robinson, these lectures are anything but boring.

Rather than obsess on the science of the book, I’d rather focus on the art of the book. Robison fancifully posits that Galileo’s great leaps in science and technology, beginning with the idea for a telescope, over his contemporaries was due to visits of beings from the moons of Jupiter and actual visits to these moons. While visiting these locations, his corporeal body on Earth would appear to be in a trance and Galileo would awaken with an imperfect memory of these trips and assume they were a dream, hence the title of this work.

Galileo’s Dream is not pure fiction, however. At the core of the book is a very gripping biography of the scientist’s last 35 years or so of his life. Galileo’s battles with the Pope’s of his time over Galileo’s theory of planetary movement is well documented elsewhere, for example, and plays a large part in the story Robinson gives us. It is just the background dialog that is built on speculation.

While the science fiction aspect of the work is a direct counterpoint to the biographical portions, it blends nicely. Robinson uses these science fiction interludes to introduce another level of intensity to the story. Galileo had enough trouble in real life that could be classified as political, yet here we find him in the middle of an extraterrestrial controversy where he becomes an unwitting pawn in the battle over Europa. Whether this is a passing nod to Arthur C Clarke or just a coincidence is not clear, but it does make for an interesting twist that this battle is over whether an indigenous life form on Europa should be contacted or left alone.

Kim Stanley Robinson rarely disappoints and Galileo’s Dream is no exception. The dialog is wonderful and the facts are presented inside a fanciful tale with enough action to keep the pace moving along. This is a book with a little something for almost all readers. Very much worth a full five stars.
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LibraryThing member gregandlarry
Interesting story, but a bit tedious.
LibraryThing member seabear
I'm afraid the theory of analepses and prolepses made no sense to me. At first this was not a problem, but I really didn't understand the point of his last visit to Hera because of it. Interesting, and compelling, but confusing. It reminded me of the confusion I felt when reading Foucault's
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Pendulum by Umberto Eco (curiously, I greatly enjoyed -- and understood -- "simpler" books by both authors: the Mars trilogy by Robinson, and the Name of the Rose by Eco).
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LibraryThing member dupontmorand
I enjoyed the historical part. Unfortunately, the sci-fi chapters grew increasingly boring.
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
This must be some kind of a record for me but not a good one. I started this book 2 weeks ago and just finished it. It's 527 pages long but I'm sure I've read books longer than that in less time. I'm not saying the book isn't good because I enjoyed it; but it's not a book one can whiz through.

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book follows the life of Galileo from the time he perfects the telescope until his death. Purely as a work of historical fiction this book would be fascinating. But Robinson is a science fiction writer and so he interposes a visitor from the future who is attempting to change history by having Galileo burned at the stake for heresy. The thinking is that this would cause science to overcome religion earlier. The stranger hopes that this would mean, in his time, that he would be believed about non-human intelligence found on Jupiter and other celetial bodies. I can't say I found this a convincing argument but it made for an interesting ride. Galileo is transported to the Jovian moons a number of times. As with the Mars trilogy, mankind's colonialization of outer space is a tremendous achievement but brings with it many problems.

Robinson must have done a lot of research into the life of Galileo. He was a fascinating person and probably was, as he is called several times, the first scientist. He was also rude, crude, lecherous, violent and, probably, manic-depressive. I was reminded, again, that it's a very short step from brilliance to madness.
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LibraryThing member pierthinker
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy was a work of genius with a perfect mix of science, technology, politics and emotion. Since then, Robinson has struggled to reach those heights again. Galileo’s Dream is mostly the story of Galileo’s fight against the Vatican. This is mixed with
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incomprehensible time-travel business involving super-intelligences at the heart of gas giant planets and moons in our future.

I enjoyed this book. I can’t say I understood it or felt the connection between Galileo’s time, my time and the future depicted here. Perhaps that is the point. The far future must be unknowable and incomprehensible to us all.

I like ‘hard’ science fiction so maybe I just don’t get this kind of stuff.
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LibraryThing member amaraduende
This is good so far... interesting view into the author's idea of Galileo's internal life. Especially having just read some of Galileo's actual writings set in historical context, I really am enjoying this.

Finished... very strange. I enjoyed it, although it wasn't at all what I expected it to be -
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nor did it end up being what it started out as.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Irascible scientist Galileo navigates Italian politics badly; people from the future with their own agendas intervene in his life, some trying to keep him on track to be burned and others willing to help him try to stop it. Robinson’s characteristic landscape descriptions are present, here
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focusing on Jupiter and its moons where future humanity lives, and his thick description of the tangled relationship between science, personality, and politics—like the tangled currents of time, in a way. I didn’t feel the magic here, though, and the book basically left me cold.
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LibraryThing member marysneedle
This was slow reading for me but Robinson did keep me interested through out the story. This is probably because I have always been interested in Galileo and his trial. All in all it was a good mix of history and science fiction.
LibraryThing member nmele
Another thoughtful, lyric, speculative novel from Kim Stanley Robinson; part biography, part history of science, part speculative fiction, all hard-headed and real but also optimistic.
LibraryThing member Patty_Jansen
I just love everything KSR writes. His work oozes authority and well-done research. In addition to that, this book, perhaps in contrast to his Mars books, follows a single character, and as result contains more depth in characterisation. The Galileo KSR pictures in this book is a real man, not a
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saint. A pretty grumpy old man, too, but I feel I know him as if he's a cantankerous uncle. I loved the far-future sections. I've seen some reviewers say that they're not necessary, but I think they bring out the essence of the human condition, that is: deep philosophical conflicts and humanity go hand in hand no matter the level of development and sophistication.
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LibraryThing member MikeRhode
Two stars because this was mostly a biography of Galileo with the science fiction as an uninteresting afterthought.
LibraryThing member brakketh
A mixture of biographical (mostly) information about Galileo and a far future interaction with a new intelligence, didn't really grab me for either part of the story.
LibraryThing member antao

As a book of historical fiction this book works admirably. Unfortunately the Jovian Story Line almost ruins it. This part is mixed with the historical passages with brief visits to the distant moons of Jupiter - Galileo travelling through both time and space to discover the colonized moons.

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begin with, these passages felt as though they were implanted into the novel in a inept fashion and we readers, suffering the same confusion as the Galileo of this novel must have suffered. The passages set in the future were roughly sketched, the world-building not living up to the meticulously researched historical sections.

Robinson is a writer who is fascinated by science. Not just the knowledge it yields, but also with the entire process of observing, hypothesizing and testing. The many hours of hard work that is involved as well as the scarce moments of new insight. Many of his characters are scientists and their work as well as their impact on society is a frequent theme in his work.

The historical part of this novel was an absolute delight to read. Especially the machinations that lead to Galileo's conviction and the banning of his book by the Vatican are very interesting.

The Jovian story line was the one which I had most troubles with. It's interesting in it its own way but it cannot balance to absolutely brilliant historical part of the novel.

This novel shows the continual fascination with science that gave us science fiction in the first place. That's one of the reasons why I read SF.

5 stars to Galileo's characterization and 1 star to the Jovian story line.

Galileo lives on through this novel.
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LibraryThing member decaturmamaof2
waiting for hubby to finish this one so I can read it; I've peeked at the first 20 pages and was engrossed immediately. Hope to get to it soon!
LibraryThing member Steve_Walker
I was very excited when this book came out. Those feelings did not last long. The sections that deal with Galileo in his native Italy are very well done. I would rate those 4 stars. My problem is with the future sequences. I don't get a good feel for the times or the culture. The characters seems
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flat. Could have been a really good book.
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Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2011)
Locus Award (Finalist — Science Fiction Novel — 2010)
Arthur C. Clarke Award (Shortlist — 2010)




0553590871 / 9780553590876
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