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Galileo's Children:
Tales of Science Vs. Superstition

Gardner Dozois (ed)

The toadies in the courtroom had their mouths open, ready to gasp again at sacrilege; but even they could hear the man was not speaking in deliberate blasphemy. He seemed to be stating . . . A fact."

Reviewed by David Woodruff

The collection as a whole gives a fascinating look at those defenders of scientific truth defying religious dogma and superstition, as Galileo faced back in the 1600s. Admittedly, some of the terrain here can be difficult to navigate through. Greg Egan's Oracle contains technical passages that would engage only the most devout of hard science fiction fans. 

If one can get beyond some of the dry prose, then the reader will be amply rewarded. James Tiptree Jr.'s The Man Who Walked Home offers a compelling look at how a scientific experiment gone wrong could itself provide the basis for a new religion over time. Mike Redneck's When The Old Gods Die pits science against superstition on a space colony that has been remade in the image of ancient Kenya, a Utopian experiment. 

This reviewer's personal favorite is Ursuala K. Le Guin's The Stars Below, where the protagonist, a man resembling Galileo in many aspects, is on the run from persecutors and hides with a group of miners. In Paul Park's The Last Homosexual, the tools of science fall into the wrong hands. In a future society, "science" becomes quackery, and is in the service of corrupt politicians and religious extremists. The latter make people afraid that almost everything is "catching." What seems to be catching here is fear and intolerance. 

In Arthur Clarke's The Star, a set of facts, that is, the death of a faraway star, gets a different interpretation. At the end of this little gem, Clarke poses an idea that the birth of Jesus was really evidence of a lost civilization searching for survival and finding it here. 

There can be no reasonable doubt: the ancient mystery is solved at last. Yet--O God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?

James Alan Gardner's Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream shows a history from Leeuwenhoek to Darwin to Joe McCarthy, where, although the details are changed, the conflict between science and superstition remains intact. The following is an exchange between Senator McCarthy and a doctor accused of inventing a new drug to cure SA or "serpentine analogues in the bloodstream." Snakes in the blood.

"What situation?" she demanded. "I am a medical researcher--" 

"And you developed a new drug, haven't you? McCarthy snapped. "A new drug. That you want to loose on the public. I wonder if the person who invented heroin called herself a medical researcher, too?" 

"Mr. McCarthy, trisulphozymase is not a narcotic. It is a carefully developed pharmaceutical---" "Which encourages miscegenation between Papists and the Redeemed," McCarthy finished. "That's what it does, doesn't it , doctor?"

The stories in this collection pay tribute to the idea that no matter how tidy our technological civilization is--it is still a fragile one. And once broken, all the bigotry and intolerance of the Old World may sweep over what progress has been made.

David Woodruff  holds an MFA in creative writing and is an active member of the Zoetrope writing community. He has stories and poems in various online and print journals.

David's other Short Reviews: "The Norton Book of Science Fiction"   


Publication Date: 2005

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?Yes

Editor bio: Gardner Dozois was the editor of Asmov's Sceince Fiction Magazne for some twenty years and is currently the editor of the annual anthology The Year's Best Science Fiction. He has also won fourteen Hugo Awards and two Nebula Awards for his own writing.

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Gardner Dozois (ed) "The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-fourth Annual Collection"

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