Omar's Reviews > Galileo's Dream

Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
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's review
Jan 14, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: adventure, historical-fiction, science-fiction, introspection
Read in January, 2010

I had mixed feelings about this book - largely because of expectations I'd developed reading previous KSR books.

Without revealing anything critical about the plot, KSR has come up with a mechanism by which he exposes his readers to Galileo Galilei's life in the 17th century while periodically pulling us forward to a time in roughly the 31st century.

I found KSR's take on the 17th century Galileo to be engaging and thought provoking in unexpected ways. I've been strongly affected by previous KSR books largely because of the way he's used epic scale stories unfolding in monumental settings as lens' into his equally vast, sweeping social and economic theories - all without losing the reader's intimate connections to characters that are carefully and intricately personalized. The 17th century thread in this book, however, eschews the panoramic setting in order to concentrate on Galileo's personal journey.

In my mind, he succeeds thoroughly in this approach. He draws the reader into his depiction of Galileo as a man wrestling to gain perspective on past personal traumas (many self-inflicted, through narcissism and blind privilege) while desperately trying to avoid future disaster. Meanwhile, he uses the events of the 17th century story line and some expositional elements of the 31st century story to give the reader a nice overview of the significance of Galileo's historical position, as the first human being known to have applied what we now call the scientific method. In short, humanity's first scientist.

Unfortunately, while the 31st century thread proves integral in advancing the 17th century storyline; it fails to compel, in and of itself. At first, it feels like a distraction. When it loses some of it's off-putting cartoonish-ness, it never succeeds in finding it's own draw. To me, it feels as though KSR came up with it as a way to develop the 17th century story; but was never able to come up with a good story to drive the 31st century thread forward.

In the end, however, I liked the book. I don't think it'll prove to have as much affect on me as the Mars trilogy did; but taken in the context of KSR's overall work, I see it as balancing the Mars Trilogy. While I never read the Three California's trilogy, I noticed the quality of his characterizations improved noticeably during the span of the Mars trilogy. This trend continues in the Science in the Capital cycle and seems (to me) to have reached a pinnacle with this book.
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