This week, the UK newspaper The Guardian published a new interview with Stan Robinson, by Alison Flood. The interview was appearantly conducted this summer, when Robinson crossed the Atlantic to attend the commemorations for the 400th anniversary of Galileo's unveiling of his telescope in Venice (2009 was declared the year of astronomy by the International Astronomical Union).
Among other things, Robinson talks about time and our perception of it, a recurring theme in his works, of his conception of Galileo's Dream, and the love he developed for the historical character of Galileo.
The germ of it began when he was researching his alternate history, The Years of Rice and Salt [...] and needed to come up with an alternative scientific revolution. Studying our own, he found Galileo "right in the middle of it". "I put that aside but thought 'there's an interesting story'," says Robinson. "He seemed like such a confident guy, you might even say a brash guy – you could put him in any situation." [A] "tremendous human story". The result, all science fiction aside, is a wonderfully warm, accurate portrayal of the man. "I didn't want to mess with that. His life is too interesting to disturb."
Galileo's Dream is the first time Robinson uses time travel and aliens in his works, but that does not mean he departs from his trademark realism:
"Essentially I sort of believe Stanislaw Lem. If we did run into an alien intelligence we'd be reduced to doing what Galileo suggests [in the novel] – drawing Pythagoras's theorem and seeing if they're in the same physical cosmos as us. And that's about all you could say to an alien," says Robinson. "So these aliens which proliferate in science fiction – well, I don't think that's the way it's going to be."
Stanislaw Lem's novel Solaris is well-known for his description of a being that is undoubtedly conscious but also unfathomably other, alien, different -- far from the typical humanoid aliens abundant in SF literature and films (photo on the right from the film adaptation of Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky).
In line with his idea that technological evolution is going so fast that we are living in a science fiction novel of our own making, Robinson says of "the crisis for this tiny genre" of science fiction literature:
"Depending what we do in next 20 years, it's very hard to be plausible, to say this is what's going to happen. At that point you can't write science fiction, [so] the genre is in a little bit of a crisis, and all the young people are reading fantasy." Robinson himself, however, presses on undaunted. He's considering future novels set around Saturn or Mercury; he's looking into a book about Herman Melville, who "after his career as a novelist crashed had another career as a customs inspector"; he's keen to put what he learnt from Galileo – the work ethic, "the tenacity of the man", into practice.