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Celestial Matters

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  329 ratings  ·  53 reviews
In the world of Celestial Matters, Ptolemaic astronomy and Aristotelian physics are valid scientific models of the surrounding world and cosmos. The Earth lies at the center of the universe, surrounded by crystal spheres which hold each of the planets, the sun and the moon, all enclosed in the sphere of the fixed stars. Earthly matter, composed of the classical four elemen ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published June 15th 1997 by Tor Books (first published April 1996)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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 ·  329 ratings  ·  53 reviews

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Dan Schwent
Jun 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: steampunk
Commander Aias of the Celestial Ship Chandra's Tear is charged with heading up operation Sunthief, using a ship to steal a piece of the sun and drop it on the capital city of the Middle Kingdom, the enemy of the Delian League.

This is one of those books that's hard to classify. Can something be classified as hard sf if the science in question is that of the ancient Greeks and equally ancient Chinese? That's right. Celestial matters is part hard sf, part alternate history. The Delia League is a Gr
I can't review this objectively, because my husband wrote it. I think it's brilliant, naturally, but better check some other people's reviews. ...more
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was definitely worth reading, both for the steampunk and silkpunk content, and as a speculation on ancient Greek science, which we of course ignore now that we have "real" scientific evidence of how the universe works. I have to disclose that I know very little about Greek celestial theory, and so much of the science was opaque to me - but that didn't make the book less enjoyable or less inspiring.

In a nutshell, the book is about a scientist named Aias, commander of a celestial ship in the
Nov 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished, on, 4, may, 2014
As every great best science fiction book, "Celestial Matters" is not just science fiction for the sake of itself. Scientific fiction - or, quite literally in this case, fictional science - is a means to point out some otherwise poorly considered themes of our ordinary world, a strategy to devise mental experiments which, thanks to their anomalous appearence, draw the readers' attention on specific topics.
The main focus of "Celestial Matters", thus, is not "What if Aristotelian Physics was true?"
David Montgomery
Aug 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fascinating, and very well-executed, novel of "alternate science." It's set in a world in which what Aristotle posited about the nature of the world — four elements, rotating geocentric celestial spheres, four humour-based medicine, etc. — are actually true. (Mostly. More on this.) Furthermore it's a novel of alternate history, for which the point of divergence appears to be that the Peloponnesian War never occurred. Rather, Athens and Sparta united in the Delian League and eclipsed Macedonia ...more
Oct 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
Describes a world in which Aristotelian Physics are real, the Delian League of Alexander the Great never collapsed, and they now do battle against the Middle Kingdom (China) by attempting to steal a piece of the sun.
David Pappas
Jul 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
Give the author a marginal amount of credit for attempting to be creative. That one positive said, all else is bad about this book. I presume the author must have believed his audience would have zero familiarity with ancient Greece and zero knowledge of logic as it pertains to science. Early on at that point where the author ascribes modern American weights and measures to the Greek empire dependent on ancient beliefs, it was more a matter of attempting to reign in the gag reflex rather than tr ...more
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: scifi, science, dnf
It is a shame I couldn't finish this book, because the premise was brilliant: Imagine Alexander the Great didn't die young and his empire lasted for centuries. More importantly, all the ptolemaic physics are true! (earth IS the center of the universe, there are 4 humours in the body, etc). This would be great, except that the story is super sluggish and hard to read. I reached page 100 and then I simply couldn't go on.

Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a book I always wanted to exist, without realizing it. I am so glad someone wrote it in real life.
William Golson
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved the way the author took early ideas on science and physics and created working technology around them.
JT Neville
Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
Not as intriguing as the preface indicated, never really caught fire though it had a lot of interesting ideas.
May 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf, f, mash, otro, historical
So. Freaking. Cool.

What if Ptolmaic astronomy and Aristotlian physics were real? What if Aristotle practiced applied science, rather than philosophy? WHAT IF HE JOINED UP WITH ALEXANDER THE GREAT AND USED THEIR COMBINED SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES AND MILITARY STRATEGY TO CONQUER THE WORLD?

Nine hundred years later, the Delian League is still going strong. It is at constant war with the Middle Kingdom. Aias, an Athenian scholar, devises a scheme to steal matter from the sun and create a weapon to end the
Mary Catelli
This is an odd one. One could call it hard science fiction and space opera except for the little fact it's another universe. A very different universe. A Ptolemaic solar planetary system. Aristotelian physics.

And Greek history is not quite what you remember from the days of classical Greece onward. Socrates died of honorable old age. Aristotle and Alexander set out to conquer the world with the fruits of Aristotle's discoveries. An attack on the Middle Kingdom led to its uniting under a new Son
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I was actually very impressed with this book.

Behind the facade of the question "what if?" lies serious reflection on the situation which gives rise to two explanatory models of the world, irreducible to each other but describing the world with equal validity and efficiency. It is also a comentary on the role of the cultural context in a military conflict and on the significance of history for the practice of science.
There is also a very interesting moral dilemma involving Hellenistic type of et
Still reading this one --- the first 30 pages or so were difficult for me, and I wasn't sure I if I wanted to continue with the novel. The difficulty came because I'm not familiar with ancient Greek beliefs about the nature of the universe, and because the events that caused the alternate timeline are only gradually revealed. I continued reading, and the story started to come together. Now(around page 100) I think I'll finish the story.

Finished. I would have enjoyed the story more if I had a bet
Mar 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
I find this book a very useful juxtaposition of various opposing forces:
Greek and Tao/Wuxing "science" are both accurate (yet alone are incomplete descriptions of their reality);
the protagonist has a shamanic worldview but pursues hermetic studies;
his government is based on military (Spartan) vs scientific (Athenian) branches (with checks and balances);
the study of philosophy and history have been abandoned in the pursuit of progress, but the protagonist has previously discovered the utility of
May 03, 2014 rated it liked it
This was very intriguing. What if Athens, Sparta, and the Han Chinese dominate the modern world, and their sciences are actually true? Earth is at the center of the universe, spontaneous generation provides food for space travellers, and acupuncture can heal stress fractures in a spaceship carved out of the moon. But despite both ancient sciences being true, they hold mutually exclusive worldviews. Can the Greeks and the Chinese, who are at war with each other, accept that there can be two corre ...more
Feb 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing trip this was. What if the Ptolemaic model of the universe -epicycles and deferents and all - was correct? What if Spontaneous Generation, the Four Humours, the Five Elements and the confusingly overlapping pantheons of ancient Greek, Hindu, Zoroastrian and other peoples were not just real, but weaponized? What if Alexander's empire, actively aided by Aristotle, endured and perpetuated a cold war with the Chinese empire?

Well, obviously, an Athenian and his (Spartan) Cherokee body
Jun 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people with a good imagination
Shelves: thebest
this book immersed you in a new world with entirely new rules to go with it. it made things like using a piece of the moon as a spaceship entirely possible.

it was absolutely wonderful and engaging. as far as i know this was richard garfinkle's first book - i sure do hope he writes a second one. for someone who isn't into this much make-believe - i loved it.
Aug 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Michael by: se1ena
One of the best books I've read this year. The premise (ancient science works and ancient cosmology is correct) really grabbed me. Garfinkle put a lot of thought into things. Classics buffs and history buffs will have a lot of fun with this novel. ...more
Oct 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
I don't know if this should be sci-fi or fantasy. In this book, ancient Greek science is actually true; ideas like celestial spheres, spontaneous generation and such actually work.

The plot follows a mission to travel to the sun to obtain a chunk of solar material to use as a weapon.
Jun 30, 2009 rated it liked it
This is an author who really knows ancient Greek history, right down to the order of the planets in the celestial sphere. Lots of fascinating possibilities don't really seem to take off anywhere, though. ...more
Mar 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a very unusual science fiction with an admirable goal. I'm still digesting the particulars.

But I recommendation it to all fans of alternative history joined to an alternative science.

This is a unique work; and definitely worth reading.
M. C.
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
I loved the philosophical angle to this book: the exploration of ancient Greek and Chinese science brought to life. The characters were a bit abstract and heroic, which I enjoyed but someone else might not. This was a great and unique first novel.
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It's been a number of years since I read this; I just remembered it today, including how very much I enjoyed it. The key is to take the logic of the world on its own terms, and trust the author - he delivers. ...more
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I don't know why I hadn't heard about this book before, but having read it, I can say it was quite a fascinating work of what I might call "hard science fantasy" - albeit in a very different yet familiar universe. Outstanding!
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
It started oh so very boring, but about half way through he finally stopped giving long-winded world-building explanations and technobabble exposition and got to the actual plot. Then it got great, and I couldn't put it down. ...more


Apr 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Solid 4 stars, I may have gotten more out of it if I was more familiar with old greek or taoist philosophy, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it quite a bit. Plenty of action, a lot of fun world building, and a really great premise! ...more
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Richard Garfinkle grew up in New York and now lives in Chicago with his wife and children. His first novel, Celestial Matters, won the Compton Crook award for best first science fiction novel of 1996. Garfinkle was twice a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. He has written numerous fiction and nonfiction works on his interests of history, science, imagination, and the pret ...more

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
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