My Rating: 4/5
Celestial Matters is Richard Garfinkle’s first novel, and what a novel it is. Garfinkle has written an alternate history story, postulating that the Ancient Greeks were right when it came to matters of science.
From this postulate, Garfinkle has painstakingly created a world based on Greek science and cosmology and then created a hard science fiction story using this science. It is downright amazing at times what Garfinkle has accomplished. The story itself is about a world war between the Delian League (the Greeks) and the Middle Kingdom (Chinese). The Greeks have commissioned a voyage to the Sun to steal part of the sun itself to use as a bomb to destroy the Chinese threat. This in and of itself makes for an interesting read, but Garfinkle went a little further. He also posited that the ancient Chinese Ci-based theories of science also worked and so we have a war, not only of competing nations, but of competing world views. Garfinkle then crafted his story, revolving around the Captain of the sun ship, dealing with morality of actions vs. duty and honor.
The only drawback to the book is that it tends to drag a bit during the middle, with too much philosophizing being tossed around. There is also some hand waving used when the Greek and Chinese scientific theories are being reconciled to each other. Nothing major, just a few annoyances which caused me to knock the rating down a bit.
I was surprised to learn that this story was written in 1997 and I hadn’t heard about it at all. It was also nominated for a Nebula I think, and I can see why. Given the detail and inventiveness of this story, I’m going to read his next book, All of an Instant, soon.