Gardner Dozois's latest anthology, Galileo's Children is subtitled Tales Superstition vs Science, but it could also be argued that these wonderful tales present human achievement and the human condition at the intersection, and/or conflict, of science and faith. I wasn't sure what to expect, and was a bit daunted, in fact. Dozois is one of the most respected and recognized names in the genre, so I had an inkling that the stories were going to be good. With a list of thirteen writers including Sir Arthur C. Clarke, James Tiptree, Jr., George R. R. Martin, Mike Resnick, and Robert Silverberg, there was no shortage of heralded names. This book also came to me at a time when I very much had a craving for reading short fiction. With all of that said, coupled with the superb quality of stories Dozois gathered together, I was very satisfied.
In George R. R. Martin's The Way of Cross and Dragon, a far-future Catholic church is quite dominant, and has grown to include interstellar species. With a large galaxy colonized the influence of the bible is wide and varied. The protagonist is sent to squelch the roots of a heretic sect on one particular planet where Judas Iscariot is cast in an interesting light. This was a very strong tale that offered an interesting question of faith and the power of truth in the face of an uncompromising belief.
Science and religion/faith are played out on an evolutionary stage in Robert Silverberg's thought-provoking and powerful The Pope of the Chimps. Here a group of scientists studied and communicated with a group of chimps. For many years, these observations were going on and a wonderful hierarchy developed between the observers and the observed, and a bond was formed between both. This may have been the most powerful tale for me, and I plan on seriously catching up with Robert Silverberg's work based upon this story.
Arthur C. Clarke’s Hugo Award winning story, The Star, resonates in simplicity and power. This story is a wonderful illustration of how a something with a proven scientific explanation can be the source for religion and faith-based belief. To reveal any of the details of the story might rob the story, as a whole, from the powerful effect it will have on those who have yet to read this award-winning gem. This story just left me in awe.
To a lesser extent, but still a story that powerfully encapsulates the anthology’s overall theme was James Tiptree, Jr.’s thought-provoking The Man Who Walked Home. Here again, faith and religious beliefs sprout up around something completely rooted in science. This story has science, time travel, and the almost now typical progression of humanity from current civilized levels to advanced and subsequently more archaic levels.
The other stories were very strong, just as Silverberg’s tale has pushed me to seek out more of his fiction, Keith Roberts’ interesting tale has done the same. In addition to the stories mentioned above, Ursula K. Le Guin offers an insightful tale of an astronomer seeking the stars. Chris Lawson’s tale blends the power of faith with an emerging coding of blood and DNA. Blood, or rather genes play a role in the pseudo-science in Paul Park’s eerily plausible tale of a grim future. Brendan DuBois prophetic story casts a one time heroic figure in an entirely new light. James Alan Gardner takes a somewhat different path as his story, or rather stories, charts scientific development throughout history, with some minor tweaks.
On the whole, this was an amazing collection of stories, whilst a couple did not sit as well with me as others, they all managed to move me and really make me think. To think not only of the themes and stories themselves, but to really put the theme of the anthology into a context of the increasingly advanced technology and surprisingly strong belief in faith over science. In particular, the ongoing debate of stem-cell research and arguments against this form of research from a faith/religion footing continued to swirl in my head.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great introduction Dozois provided to each story. Each introduction is an insightful encapsulation of the writer, which serves to contextualize each story as a part of the greater whole of the anthology. The stories, while ranging in original publication from 1955 to 2004, still resonate profoundly today. This book is a great opportunity to discover, or rediscover, both older stories as well as a few new stories, all powerful tales of science fiction from the most prestigious name over the past few decades.
© 2005 Rob H. Bedford