Galileo's Dream


Galileo's Dream is a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, published on August 6, 2009 in the UK and December 29, 2009 in the USA. It is Robinson's 14th novel to be published.

In articles and interviews in 2008, during the writing stage, the novel was referred to as The Galileans.


After the historical fiction feel of most of The Years Of Rice And Salt, Robinson returns to writing set in Renaissance times, with this novel whose pitch can be approximated to a biography partly based on historical sources, partly time-travel science fiction.

Galileo's Dream covers the life of Galileo Galilei, the 16-17th century Italian scientist, most known for his invention of the optical telescope and discoverer of the four big moons of Jupiter (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto), which are still called "Galilean moons" today. In a touch which might be reminiscent of Olaf Stapledon's Last And First Men, a novel Robinson has read and admired, Galileo's Dream enables Galileo to communicate across time with the future inhabitants of the Galilean moons. This narrative device, which can be described as supernatural, sounds novel and unexpected on Robinson's behalf and marks the first time Robinson has used time-travelling in his work. It is, however, used within the novel to explore themes such as human perceptions, the passage of time, mortality and legacy.

The novel includes the following product description:

In a novel of stunning dimensions, the acclaimed author of the MARS trilogy brings us the story of the incredible life -- and death -- of Galileo, the First Scientist. Late Renaissance Italy still abounds in alchemy and Aristotle, yet it trembles on the brink of the modern world. Galileo's new telescope encapsulates all the contradictions of this emerging reality. Then one night a stranger presents a different kind of telescope for Galileo to peer through. Galileo is not sure if he is in a dream, an enchantment, a vision, or something else as yet undefined. The blasted wasteland he sees when he points the telescope at Jupiter, of harsh yellows and reds and blacks, looks just like hell as described by the Catholic church, and Galileo is a devout Catholic. But he's also a scientist, perhaps the very first in history. What he's looking at is the future, the world of Jovian humans three thousand years hence. He is looking at Jupiter from the vantage point of one of its moons whose inhabitants maintain that Galileo has to succeed in his own world for their history to come to pass. Their ability to reach back into the past and call Galileo "into resonance" with the later time is an action that will have implications for both periods, and those in between, like our own. By day Galileo's life unfurls in early seventeenth century Italy, leading inexorably to his trial for heresy. By night Galileo struggles to be a kind of sage, or an arbiter in a conflict ...but understanding what that conflict might be is no easy matter, and resolving his double life is even harder. This sumptuous, gloriously thought-provoking and suspenseful novel recalls Robinson's magnificent Mars books as well as bringing to us Galileo as we have always wanted to know him, in full.


The novel is composed of 20 chapters, each beginning with a quotation from works of literature or poetry from ancient, medieval or modern times (including from Galileo himself). It appears to be written in the third person, occasionally switching to first person narration.


I The Stranger

1609. Venice, Padua.

Galileo Galilei, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Padua since 1592, meets a stranger from "Alta Europa", who informs him of the existence of a spyglass. He creates one and makes a demonstration to the Doge of Venice and his senators.

II I Primi Al Mondo

1609-1610. Venice, Padua.

Galileo perfects his spyglasses and makes astronomical observations: the stars, the moon, the planets, Jupiter's moons. He contacts the Florentines hoping patronage at the Medici court.

III Entangled

3020. Europa.

The stranger, Ganymede, leads Galileo on Europa; meanwhile in 17th century Italy, Galileo is in a syncope. Council: Galileo meets Hera, Ganymede's group contests a vote on the exploration of Europa's ocean. Galileo is made to forget his visit.

IV The Phases of Venus

1610. Padua, Venice, Florence.

Cartophilus comes to the service of Galileo. Galileo observes the Jupiter moons. Publication of The Starry Messenger (Siderus Nuncius). Galileo is accepted as Mathematician and Philosopher to the Grand Duke Cosimo. He sends spyglasses to many courts in Europe. Galileo moves to Florence and meets young Florentine nobleman Filippo Salviati. He observes the phases of Venus.

V The Other

3020. Europa.

Ganymede and Hera take Galileo to a plunge into the Europan ocean, trying to sabotage a Europan expedition to the ocean's deep, where they encounter a being. Hera wants to snatch Galileo off Ganymede's influence.

VI A Statue Would Have Been Erected

1610-1611. Florence, Rome.

Religious condemnations of Galileo's observations. Galileo goes to Rome to defend his opinions, making important acquaintances: Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, Federico Cesi (founder of the Academy of the Lynxes), Pope Paul V. Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino initiates an investigation into Galileo's theories.

VII The Other Galileo

3020. Io.

Ganymede and Hera battle over using the device (the entangler) to take Galileo back and forth to the future (prolepsis and analepsis). Ganymede wanted Galileo as an intelligent and neutral party to support his position to prevent the exploration of the Europan ocean; Ganymede's prolepses aim at science overcoming religion, and Galileo dying as science's martyr, burned at the stake; Hera wants to help prevent that fate.

VIII Parry Riposte

1611-1616. Florence, Rome.

Galileo defends himself of accusations, another visit to Rome. Bellarmino's warning not to deal with Copernicanism finds itself in the middle of power plays between the Borgias and the Vatican, with the Inquisition meddling. Catophilus and diplomat Giovanfrancesco Buonamici investigate within Rome's network of spies. Bellarmino delivers Galileo a decree with the warning, while all books adopting the Copernican view are banned.

IX Aurora

1616. Florence.

Galileo moves in the Villa del Segui, in Bellosguardo, overlooking Florence.

3020. Europa.

Aurora, physicist and mathematician, gives Galileo a fast summary of scientific advancements from the Ancient Greeks, to his own time, to quantum physics, to mathematical descriptions of probabilities, time, multi-verses and manifolds. Galileo has a partial dream-like memory of previous visits, which influence his decisions in his life; Hera tries to remedy to that.

X The Celatone

1616-ca.1619. Florence.

Sickness and bad temper, and Galileo focuses on other things. He develops the jovilabe and the celatone. He sends his daughters to the convent of San Matteo.

XI The Structure of Time

3020. Europa, Callisto.

With Aurora, Galileo gets another crash course at mathematics and physics history: the ten dimensions, the three dimensions of time, the entity that encompasses all of Europa's ocean. Hera makes Galileo remember his past in order to make him better understand the choices in his life: his mother abusing his weak father (and how that affected his relationships with women, his will to be stronger than everybody else); his meeting with Marina at a party at his old friend Sagredo's in Venice. Hera takes Galileo to Callisto.

XII Carnival On Callisto

3020. Callisto.

More memories: despite this love at first, he did not marry Marina, and they fought; his mother and Marina clashing, Galileo trying to separate them (women having a hard time in a patriarchal context). Ganymede was a cult leader who had ventured in Ganymede's ocean; what he had found there made him want to prevent Europans from doing the same; Hera had been his mnemosyne (akin to a psychologist). On Callisto, Hera and Galileo moved through a great carnival to a council for the whole Jovian system, Ganymede and the Europans clashing. Hera's group follow Ganymede's group to Io and engage in a skirmish; Ganymede escapes while Hera is left stranded and Galileo is sent back in a hurry, without amnestics.

XIII Always Already

ca.1619-1623. Florence.

Galileo is lost between the present, the future and the déjà-vus of manifolds. Many deaths: Sagredo, his mother, Cardinal Bellarmino, Duke Cosimo (replaced by young Ferdinando II), Marina, Pope Paul V (replaced by Gregory XV). Visits to the convent; gardening; writing. Discussion with Cartophilus: Ganymede had made several other interventionist attempts before (Archimedes) and Cartophilus had been around for over two centuries, but the inertia of the manifolds was too much to achieve the desired long-term effects; the whole process was being abandoned because of philosophical objections. The unexpected happens: Gregory XV dies and is replaced by Galileo's friend Cardinal Barberini, Pope Urban VIII; a Lyncean, Cesarini, is made Cardinal!

XIV Fear of the Other

3020. Europa.

Hera makes Galileo remember: Galileo having a good time with rich friends while Marina was doing the hard work of parenting; not marrying her because of her stature as a prostitute; complying with astrology (prostituting his science) for the sake of patronage; and what Hera considers Galileo's main contribution, establishing scientific protocols for experimentation. Ganymede's group creates an explosion in Europa that seemes to damage the sentience underground; then Jupiter reacts.

XV The Two Worlds

1623-1631. Florence, Rome.

Galileo finishes The Assayer. Positive conjunctions do not last forever: Cardinal Cesarini dies and is replaced by Fra Niccolo Riccardi, less of an intellectual; Pope Urban is too much involved in the politics of installing his power, and of the alliances being made (in the Thirty-Years War), to care. Galileo leaves Rome believing he had been given permission to discuss anything as long as it's considered as a mathematical abstraction. Again between illnesses, Galileo writes the Dialogue Concerning the Two World Systems. Pope Urban grows more distant and the weight of Galileo's friends diminishes; nevertheless, Galileo successfully negotiates for the publication of his Dialogo. In Florence, Galileo moves from Bellosguardo to the villa Il Gioiello, in Arcetri, next to his daughters' convent. Galileo gets the Dialogo published. In a banquet by the Grand Duchess Christina, Galileo meets Hera, passing as Countess Alessandra Buonamici, wife of the diplomat Buonamici!

XVI The Look

3020. Jupiter.

Galileo gets a tutorial on the history(ies) between his time and Hera's: man's progressive hold over nature, war, huge life loss, and then slow but resilient restoration and reconstruction; time-travelling a search for redemption and an attempt to minimize past suffering. Ganymede believes that minimization shall come by Galileo dying and science overcoming religion. Flying over Jupiter's surface, Ganymede is on trial; he says he is from the future and that extinction lies ahead if contact is made with the Jovian, because of the despair that would be produced in humanity if they learn how insignificant they are compared to the Jovian and his peers, vastly superior to humanity. Jupiter manifests itself, with sounds and cloud formations, making them understand that the cosmos is populated everywhere, from Europa and Ganymede and Jupiter, to millions around stars elsewhere in the galaxy, and stars themselves, all of them communicating across all ten dimensions, changing always across all manifolds, eternity itself striving to improvement. In ecstasy, Galileo was unable to follow any longer; "All things remain in God". When they came to, Galileo and Hera made love, Galileo understanding that men of his time had been afraid of women because they were other.

XVII The Trial

1632-1633. Florence, Rome.

Wars in Europe had weakened papal power and Urban had to strike back by crusading against heresy: Galileo is called for examination. Ambassador Niccolini tries to defend him. In the trial, headed by Maculano di Firenzuola, Galileo is questioned on the prohibition by Bellarmino of 1616; a stricter but fake injunction is presented to him. Galileo is held in a Vatican dormitory room. In a private interview with Galileo, Maculano explained that he had to be found guilty in something, and got Galileo to accept admission of sin.

3020. Jupiter.

With Hera, Galileo decides of Ganymede's fate: to be sent back in analepsis to make himself prevent the changes that he had done.

XVIII Vehement Suspicion

1633. Rome.

Galileo confesses and is allowed to defend himself and spends months waiting, writing letters to Maria Celeste. Maculano's proceedings are superseded by the Jesuits and Galileo's fate lies in the balance. Cartophilus and Buonamici, always watching, conspire and make sure what the Cardinals' vote will be (Cartophilus sneaks in Gasparo Borgia's villa and drugs him). Galileo is sentenced to vehement suspicion of heresy, the Dialogo is banned, Galileo is to be imprisoned, 7 out of 10 signatures: a compromise had been reached.

XIX Eppur Si Muove

1633. Rome, Siena.

Galileo spends days and sleepless nights in rage and bitterness. He is allowed to move to Siena, at Archbishop's Piccolomini (an ex-student), who tries to occupy his mind, while Urban's reprimands continues.

3020. Io.

Hera explains Ganymede was trying to carve a new channel of temporal outcome with multiple analepses, where science would dominate religion from its beginning, and low points of human history would be reduced compared to times where the reverse is realized; but all potentialities exist, all Galileos exist, an infinity of them, including the ones that were burnt to the stake (this Galileo tries to save one). There is no end to it. Hera gives Galileo amnestics and Galileo comes back from his syncope.

1633-1634. Siena, Florence.

Galileo is granted to be moved to his home and his family at Arcetri (bidding Piccolomini goodbye, he said "Eppur si muove"). The nuns at the convent were in a horrible state; Galileo helps in any way he could, spending time farming, talking daily with Maria Celeste. He devises machines and starts writing, about the mathematics in all of God's creations. Maria Celeste falls ill and dies.

XX The Dream

1634-1642. Florence.

Galileo compiles his old notes and writes The Two Sciences (Discorsi), the book he wanted to write before he got involved with the telescope; it is published in Holland. He falls back into melancholia, goes blind; young Vincenzio Viviani becomes his assistant. Correspondence and visits from Alessandra Buonamici comfort him; visitors come from all over Europe (Thomas Hobbes, John Milton). He dreams of all the important people in his life, most dead, and Alessandra. He falls ill, and dies.

1642-1794. Florence, Holland, England, France.

Viviani dedicates his life to collecting Galileo's work; he takes out Maria Celeste's remains and places them close to Galileo's tomb. After his death, Pope Clement XII (a Florentine) has built a new tomb: Galileo with Maria Celeste and Viviani, next to Michelangelo, Art and Science side by side. Cartophilus and fellow (time-)travellers move on, helping several people; no one coming back in the entangler anymore. Cartophilus had tried to change things with Ganymede, to make understand that science is a religion, the most ethical religion, interfered with Archimedes, then Galileo, then trying to correct things along the way. Now, in a cell in Bastille during the French Revolution, Cartophilus ends his narration.


  • Galileo Galilei
  • Maffeo Barberini (Pope Urban VIII)
  • Ganymede
  • Hera

Publication History

  • Voyager, hardcover, August 2009
  • Voyager, trade paperback, August 2009
  • Spectra, hardcover, December 2009
  • Spectra, e-Book, December 2009
  • Science Fiction Book Club, December 2009
  • Minotauro, as El Sueño de Galileo (Spanish translation), June 2010
  • Voyager, paperback, August 2010
  • Spectra, paperback, December 2010
  • Recorded Books Inc., Audio Book, February 2011
  • Presses de la Cité, as Le Rêve de Galilée (French translation), November 2011
  • Pocket, as Le Rêve de Galilée (French translation), September 2013


(by order of discovery, which more or less approximates order of publication):


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