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REVIEW: Celestial Matters

Review Summary: Alternate history set in Ancient Greece

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.

About JP Frantz (2323 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

2 Comments on REVIEW: Celestial Matters

  1. Just curious, did you find that you liked the SF aspects of this story better than the history parts? Or vice cersa? Or about the same for each?

    I’ve yet to wander down the halls of alternate history fiction. I guess my loathing of History classes back in grade school is to blame. That’s not to say my obsessive-compulsive book buying fanatacism has kept the sub-genre off my bookshelf, natch.

    Have you any opinion of Turtledove’s World War series?

  2. Well, the history really didn’t play much of a role, other then to setup the conflict and to set the stage for the story. Otherwise, the SF using Ptolomeic and Aristotilian science was great. Certainly a change from mainstream hard SF using quantum mechanics and relativity.

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