Thursday, July 3, 2008

Gardner Dozois (ed.) - Galileo's Children: Tales Of Science vs. Superstition (Book Review)

"Galileo's Children"
edited by: Gardner Dozois
hardcover, 343 pages
publisher: PYR (imprint from Prometheus Books)

Galileo Galilei is best known for his sotto-voce defiance of the inquisition. This, one of the most famous quotes in history - "Eppur si muove" (but still, it does move) - is without doubt apocryphal. The sentiment was surely present, but Galileo was a cautious man, well aware of the fate that befall Giordano Bruno. Some would say that so much of his fame comes from good PR, which made of him a martyr of reason, others look on his work at the fields of physics, mathematic, astronomy and philosophy and see in him a true man of science and ratio (which includes self-preservation, of course) and say without a doubt that he is a true father of (modern) science.

That being said, it is a little wonder, that his name that was chosen for the title of anthology of SF stories that PYR published in 2005, and his tale made the frame in which stories had to fit to be included. But Galileo is not the only great name that found its way on the cover of the 343 pages long book. PYR has left the selection of stories to the veteran of anthologies - Gardner Dozois and he proved that he wasn't named best professional editor for fifteen times in vain. Looking back over the last half a century he selected the stories which in his eyes best encompassed the conflict between the opposites of science and superstition, often written by authors with names as well known as his. Anthology includes thirteen tales:
As said, the main theme is the conflict between ratio of science and the intolerance, misapplication of facts, glorification of ignorance and use of all these in propagation of fear and ever increasing control found in every culture known to man. It will not come as a big surprise that the main "bad guy" that embody most of these in many of the tales is (organized) religion. With rampant fundamentalism on all the continents, screaming for return to one kind of so called "true values" or another and seeing science as the root of all evil, that is easy to understand, but nonetheless sometimes hard to swallow. In a way I found it odd. I agree with such a view of the situation, but when faced with such an en-masse fingerpointing I can not help myself but to think over some darker aspects of science.

I love short stories and novelettes. In some ways I consider them the true form of the genre that had lately put quantity over the "idea", which was the yardstick of a tale for better part of the century. Within these still lives that simple, playful "What if..." which, sometimes written softer, other harder and sometimes just for fun, is always a pleasure to read. Then again, perhaps in part such a feeling comes from my Slavic soul, with its romantically fatalistic individuality (LOL). I do hope you will not think worse of me if I confess that for me Clark's 'The Star' with it's simple but profound dilemma and many subtle points still shines most brightly (pun intended) among all of these tales. But if you were to ask me which I liked the least, I could not answer you, because all of the stories are great.

Those among you, that look first at the numbers of Fruitcakes, than at the cover and only then decide whether to read the review, by now probably wonder how come, with all the praise, there are only four (and a half) of our beloved maced barbarians beneath the text? For two reasons, and I have already hinted at both:
  • When one thinks about it, it is obvious that the tales were selected for a certain quality. Dozois's introduction offers explanation enough, but nonetheless I got the feeling that the book lacks a tiny bit of balance. There is a prominent "we are in the right" feeling which I found a tad irritating. This, I suppose, also explains the vague but nagging feeling of deja-vu that follows you through the book. It is also true that this impression can be easily avoided, simply by reading one story at a time.
  • The oldest among the tales was first published in 1955 and only three of them are less than a decade old. This assures us a quality of writing, that is true. Not because new authors would write worse than those decades ago, but because any such tale had already stood and survived the judgment of time and change of generations. This fact will on the one hand without a doubt put this anthology on many of 'must have' lists, but on the other it also represents a weakness of a sort. If one is a veteran reader of anthologies and publications that run such form of SF tales (or, in many cases had just read through award winning tales) he had already read most, if not all, of chosen tales.
So, as said (damn, I think this is the highest mark I've ever bestowed on this blog):

Well folks it's been a while, beeing the end of a school year and all. But now (or really soon) I'm back among the ranks of unemployed, so I suppose we'll be reading more of each other. THX for the wait (especially to ThRiNiDiR, for not skinning me alive, since I've been promising him this piece for the better part of three months). And a BIG "thank you!" to PYR.


RobB said...

I read this back in '05 and loved it myself. Clarke and Martin's stories really stood out to me, both were profoundly powerful.

Anonymous said...

I suppose you ment "Fate that befell Giordano Bruno", not "Faith that befall Giordano Bruno".

BlindMan said...

Yeah... Fixed it. THX

Löeb said...

Great review Blindman!

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Nice review :) I have this on my shelf -- must start it soon, now!

Btw, those three examples of when science has gone a bit wrong -- I wouldn't say they are science's fault, really -- Science provides answers ... it's whether that information, or new skill, or technology, is used wisely that is outside the control of science :)

Nice review, again!


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