REVIEW: Galileo’s Children edited by Gardner Dozois

REVIEW SUMMARY: 5 standouts + 7 good stories – 1 Meh = very good overall.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of 13 sf stories that deal with conflict between science and superstition/religion.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: 12 stories good or better, 5 of them excellent.

CONS: One mediocre entry.

BOTTOM LINE: A fine anthology whose quality is higher than most.

The subtitle of the anthology Galileo’s Children, edited by Gardner Dozois, is Tales of Science vs. Superstition because this themed anthology contains stories that deal with conflict between science and superstition or religion. I would not have guessed that such a theme could yield many stories, let alone so many good ones. Further, I expected many of the stories to deal with such similar situations such that, by book’s end, I would be left with a beating-a-dead-horse feeling. Not so. Each story was significantly different in topic, delivery, and the ultimate conflict between science and religion. This subject matter is surprisingly varied!

Standout stories in this anthology are “The Stars Below” by Ursula K. Le Guin (look at me finding another likable Le Guin story. Will wonders never cease?), “The Way of Cross and Dragon” by George R.R. Martin (my first Martin story. I simply must, must read more of him), “The Pope of the Chimps” (at this point, I would be seriously surprised if Silverberg failed to deliver), “Falling Star” by Brendan DuBois, “Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream” by James Alan Gardner and “When the Old Gods Die” by Mike Resnick (note to self: find and read Kirinyaga).

The number of high-quality stories makes this collection a very good one – better than most. (Then again, I suppose that should have been expected with the number of award nominations and wins these stories claim.) Yet another fine job by master editor Gardner Dozois!

Reviewlettes follow:


STORIES IN THIS ANTHOLOGY:

  1. “The Stars Below” by Ursula K. Le Guin [1975 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 07/26/05]

    • Synopsis: An astronomer escapes persecution for his scientific studies, hides out in a vast underground silver mine and pursues his quest for knowledge.
    • Review: This was a great mood piece written with vivid imagery. You could feel the despondency of the astronomer as he sifts the ashes of his observatory. The ending leaves the astronomer’s fate unresolved but it does answer the question as to whether his ever-increasing seclusion from the befriended silver miners is the result of insanity or intelligence. A very good read.
    • Note: Winner of the 1975 Locus Award.
  2. “The Will of God” by Keith Roberts [1991 novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 07/26/05]
    • Synopsis: In 16th century early-Inquisition Germany, a man attempts to record and reproduce sound. The first half of the story meticulously details his experiments with the “fluid” of sound and his attempts to record it. The second half tells of his attempts to reproduce sound and the subsequent torturous run-in with the authorities.
    • Review: The writing here seemed more of the literary type than, say, conversational and, for some reason, was a bit of a stumbling block for the first half. It must have been me because by the middle of the story, it was not an impediment at all and the story picked up quite a bit. I could not help but be moved by the injustice of the final scenes.
  3. “The Way of Cross and Dragon” by George R.R. Martin [1979 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 07/27/05]
    • Synopsis: A tentacled alien who happens to be the Archbishop of the Christian church sends a human priest to the world of Arion to confront the heresy embodied in a newly formed religion worshipping Saint Judas Iscariot. This story’s title is named after their Bible.
    • Review: You know you’ve read a top-notch story when it combines thought-provoking ideas, dramatic tension, believable characters embroiled in conflict and does so in a way that makes you want more. This story had all of that. Father Damien is the doubting priest who is sent to confront the heretic, Father Lukyan. On his journey we are treated to a beautifully rich back story of the Judas religion. His mission is anything but standard as Father Lukyan has a surprise in store for Father Damien. The author weaves issues of faith, heresy and truth in a marvelous “religion is opiate for the masses” speech given by the ex-Christian Luckyan. I loved all-too-brief dynamic between Damien and the alien archbishop. The philosophical discussion between Damien and Lukyan were just as fun. This is a great read.
    • Note: Winner of the 1980 Hugo Award.
    • Note: Nominated for the 1980 Nebula Award.
  4. “The Pope of the Chimps” by Robert Silverberg [1982 novelette] (Rating: 5/5) [Read 08/06/05]
    • Synopsis: When a member of a scientific team assigned to study chimpanzees is diagnosed with leukemia, the scientists decide to teach the chimps about death. The death of the scientist, who the chimps saw as a god, leads them to develop their own religion.
    • Review: In usual Silverberg style, this well-told story is lean and moves quickly. Not a word is wasted on fluff. The story was and engrossing look at the development of a religion and was a fun, fable-like read.
    • Note: Nominated for the 1983 Nebula Awards (short story)
    • Note: Nominated for the 1983 Locus Awards (novelette)
    • Note: Also available online at SCI FICTION.
  5. “The World is a Sphere” by Edgar Pangborn [1973 short story] (Rating: X/5) [Read 07/28/05]
    • Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic America (the southern U.S.A has been lost to flooding) the Empire of Misipa (as in Mississippi) maneuvers to extinguish the last remnants of the Republic.
    • Review: I really liked many elements of this story: the future America setting with a feeling of old Rome, legalized slavery of the six-fingered Musons and the struggle of ex-Republic Deliberator Ian Moltas to come to grips with the true nature of the Earth’s geometry. However, while the consideration of a non-flat Earth was essential in portraying the misfortune of Molta’s ultimate fate, it seemed like a minor element of this sometimes longwinded story.
  6. “Written in Blood” by Chris Lawson [1999 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 07/29/05]
    • Synopsis: A Muslim biologist learns of a method to modify his DNA to hold the information of the Qur’an.
    • Review: This story contained the interesting scientific ideas of encoding information in the bloodstream. There were also some interesting dramatic elements like using such information to construct a virus that attacks only info-modified DNA. Still, the story did little more than present these ideas and more needed to be done with them.
    • Note: Winner of the 2000 Aurealis and Ditmar Awards.
  7. “Falling Star” by Brendan DuBois [2004 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 07/29/05]
    • Synopsis: An aging astronaut pines for life before the disaster that caused all technology to become extinct.
    • Review: A quiet and haunting story of life after the fall of technology. People have fled the cities and man’s way of life, including all of its old fears, has regressed back 200 years. An excellent story.
  8. “Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream” by James Alan Gardner [1997 novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 07/30/05]
    • Synopsis: Alternative history story where the discovery of “serpentine structures” in the bloodstream divides humanity into two separate races. The centuries-spanning tale is told through three hearings against scientists (including Charles Darwin) who study the serpentine structures.
    • Review: Excellent story! Taken together, the three shorter works paint a powerfully frightening picture that touches upon such controversial subjects such as natural selection, prejudice, segregation and biological warfare. This was a fascinating read.
    • Note: Nominated for the 1998 Hugo and Nebula Awards.
    • Note: Winner of the 1998 Aurora Award.
    • Note: Also available online. Go. Read it now.
  9. “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke [1955 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 07/30/05]
    • Synopsis: An astrophysicist priest returning from a deep space mission to study the stars has his faith shaken.
    • Review: Despite its predictability, this is a very good story of the “surprise ending” variety.
    • Note: Winner of the 1956 Hugo Award.
  10. “The Last Homosexual” by Paul Park [1996 short story] (Rating: 4/5) [Read 08/02/05]
    • Synopsis: A man fears that he has been contaminated by a gay man in a fearful future where every human condition, from obesity to poverty to sexual preference, has been connected to individual DNA and is thought to be contagious.
    • Review: There are some thought-provoking issues raised here concerning privacy and prejudice. I liked how the nation had regressed back in republic states because of the fear. While it falls just a little short of capitalizing on the dramatic material it deals with, this is still a very good story.
  11. “The Man Who Walked Home” by James Tiptree, Jr. [1972 short story] (Rating: 3/5) [Read 08/03/05]
    • Synopsis: An experiment gone wrong hurtles a man through time and creates a worldwide holocaust. The story is told through quick glimpses in the future as the narration puddle-skips ahead, often decades at a clip, until the latest scenes have people expecting the annual arrival of scientist John Delgado.
    • Review: A really interesting premise that incorporates some of the perspective-shifting elements of time travel. The scene-skipping slowly (too slowly) paints a picture of what has happened and by the end it seemed like the story was a bit longer than it should have been.
  12. “When the Old Gods Die” by Mike Resnick [1995 novellette] (Rating: 5/5) [Read 08/05/05]
    • Synopsis: On a Utopian space station that shuns the technology of Earth, an elder tribesman tries to prevent the next generation’s attempts to bring new technology back into their society.
    • Review: Excellent story that is set in Resnick’s Kirinyaga universe. Kirinyaga is a space station modeled after Kenya built as a Utopian experiment. Resnick does a fantastic job at both world building (or at least society building) and storytelling. The plight of the elder leader ( a mundumugu or “witch doctor”) as he tries to compete with the latest medical technology is fun to watch. In the end, Resnick tells a very compelling story of change. This is a great read.
    • Note: Nominated for the 1996 Hugo and Nebula Awards.
    • Note: Winner of the 1996 Locus Award.
  13. “Oracle” by Greg Egan [2000 novella] (Rating: 2/5) [Read 08/06/05]
    • Synopsis: In an alternate post-WWII, a mathematician is imprisoned for his homosexuality. A mysterious woman frees him where he goes on to argue the merits of machine intelligence.
    • Review: While some of the things in this story were interesting (the alternate history, the hard science, machine intelligence, time travel and the logic-infused debate) it was a bit overbearing and drawn out such that I had a hard time getting into it. Even the story elements that reflect real life (for example: the mathematician represents Alan Turing and the antagonist represents C.S. Lewis [go, go gadget Google!]) did not add much to the story for me since I am unfamiliar with the real-life history. Oh well.
    • Note: Nominated for the 2001 Hugo Award.
    • Also available online at the author’s website.