Book Review: Galileo’s Children (2005)

One of the things that attracted me to science fiction is its ability to create a different reality and use it as a prism through which to examine ourselves and society. That is part of what motivates Galileo’s Children: Tales of Science vs. Superstition, an anthology of previously published short stories

The 13-story collection, issued on the relatively new Pyr imprint, is replete with notables, starting with its editor, Gardner Dozois, who has won more than two dozen Hugo, Locus and Nebula awards. Also appearing are Hugo and Nebula award winning authors Arthur C. Clarke, Greg Egan, Ursula Le Guin, George R.R. Martin and Robert Silverberg. Yet I found some of the more compelling pieces to be by lesser known authors or ones with whom I was not as familiar.

My favorites included:

“When the Old Gods Die,” a part of Mike Resnick’s Hugo winning stories about Kirinyaga, a utopian space colony based on ancient Kenya. The tale presents the quandary created when the second and third generation of the colony realize the benefits that can be gained from scientific advances of others, advances the founders have intentionaly kept out to avoid despoiling the ancient tribal principles upon which the society was built. The story does double duty as it not only raises this dilemma but whether the story’s resolution best serves that culture.

“Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream” by James Alan Gardner uses alternate history for a three-stage look at how science can be impacted by inquisitions, whether initiated by religion or by political zealots. Gardner also addresses the equally important issue of how co-opting basic scientific findings to support or advance religious or political contentions can gradually lead to a point of no return even for those who are intent on acting with science at heart.

“Falling Star” by Brendan DuBois looks at the backlash against science and scientists when blame for a catastrophe is laid at the feet of science. And Chris Lawson’s “Written in Blood,” originally published in 1999, now seems almost prescient in combining societal and governmental reaction to Islamic terrorism and doctrinal rifts among the Muslim people with concern over the ramifications of high-tech bioscience.

Given the title, some may see the book as one equating religion with superstition. As the foregoing indicate, though, several of the stories view superstition in the broader sense of dogma and intolerance of all sorts, whether arising from religion, politics or other cultural forces. That some of the works focus on religious attacks on science reflects history, something perhaps illustrated by the fact the stories in the collection were initially published over the course of five decades.

As with almost any anthology, not everything will fit the tastes of all readers. Dozois, however, not only seeks a balance between old and new but also blends genres and styles within the broad field of SF. Equally important, the anthology attempts to consider the issues the conflict between science and superstition creates without necessarily pointing fingers at any particular personalities, faiths or ideologies. In creating this distance and allowing the reader to fill in the blanks, the anthology provides an opportunity to set aside preconceptions and engage in more penetrating and perhaps objective examination of these seemingly never-ending issues.

No granite is so hard as hatred and no clay so cold as cruelty.

Ursula Le Guin, “The Stars Below,” Galileo’s Children

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