Science, beginning to end

Kim Stanley Robinson, a resident of Davis, has won every major science-fiction award, and his latest novel is proof of why he deserves them all. The portrait of Galileo alone would be enough to make this novel noteworthy; it’s a full characterization of a man of genius who was, first and foremost, a man of his times. But layered on top of that is time travel, and the question of whether science (and the scientific method, which we see in its infancy in Galileo’s workshop) will triumph over superstition and religious heterodoxy, and whether it should. The idea that the future depends on the past—and that the reverse is also possible—is both enlightening and a necessary reminder that we carry our human frailties with us no matter how advanced we might think we’ve become. Robinson takes “science fiction” far beyond the boundary that the label is intended to mark.