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Galileo's Dream
By Kim Stanley Robinson

Discussed March 2011

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Galileo’s family/household

  • Galileo Galilei
  • Vincenzio Galilei (father)
  • Giulia Galilei (mother)
  • Marina (mistress)
  • Virginia/Maria Celeste (daughter)
  • Livia/Suor Arcangela (daughter)
  • Vincenzio Galilei (son)
  • Marc’Antonio Mazzoleni (artisan)

Galileo’s opponents

  • Ludovico delle Colombe (philosopher)
  • Orazio Grassi/Sarsi (Jesuit)
  • Pope Paul V
  • Cardinal Robert Bellarmino (1616 inquisitor)
  • Michelangelo Segizzi (1616 inquisitor)
  • Cardinal Vincenzo Maculano (1633 inquisitor)
  • Cardinal Gasparo Borgia (Spanish ambassador)
  • Pope Urban VIII (previously Maffeo Barberini)

The time-travelers

  • Cartophilus (servant)
  • Sestilia (daughter-in-law)
  • La Piera (housekeeper)
  • Giovanfrancesco Buonamici
  • Alessandra Bocchineri (Hera)

Galileo’s allies

  • In Venice
    • Paolo Sarpi (priest and spymaster)
    • Giovanfrancesco Sagredo (noble and scientist)
  • In Florence
    • Cosimo Medici (Grand Duke of Florence)
    • Belisario Vinta (Cosimo’s secretary)
    • Filippo Salviati (noble and scientist)
    • Ferdinando Medici (Cosimo’s successor)
    • Vincenzio Viviani (secretary)
    • Giancinto Stefani (Galileo’s censor)
  • In Rome
    • Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII)
    • Federico Cesi (founder of Academy of Lynxes)
    • Christopher Clavius (Jesuit astronomer)
    • Francesco Niccolini (Florentine ambassador)
    • Cardinal Francesco Barberini (Urban’s nephew)
    • Giovanni Ciampoli (Urban’s secretary)
    • Niccolo Riccardi (censor)
  • In the 31st century
    • Hera (Ionian leader)
    • Aurora (mathematician)
    • Ganymede (charismatic cult leader)


  1. Did you finish the book?
  2. Did you like the book? Why or why not?
  3. Did you find Galileo a sympathetic character?
  4. Galileo's Dream moves backward and forward in time, between 17th-century Italy and 31st-century Jupiter. Did you find both settings equally engaging, or did you prefer one over the other? (Which setting would you rather live in?) Did you feel the two storylines complemented each other?
  5. How familiar were you with the life and time period of Galileo Galilei before reading Galileo’s Dream? Do you feel the book accurately portrayed the attitudes of the time? Did you find the politics clear?
  6. Robinson proposes a multi-dimensional theory of time (pp. 213-215) in which “It’s all happening perpetually.” Did you find the theory intriguing in its own right, or merely accept it as necessary support for the book’s time-travel plot?
  7. Galileo and Ganymede express fundamental differences on the proper relationship between religion and science. Ganymede believes that only “the secularization of the world . . . saves humanity from many centuries of darkness, in which science is perverted to the will of insane religions” (pp. 134, 330), while Galileo argues that that “Science needed more religion, not less. And religion needed more science. The two needed to become one” (p. 380). Hera takes a middle view, but tells Galileo that “when you succeed in a reconciliation, and religion dominates science in its earliest phase, you get the deepest and most violent low points in the subsequent histories” (p. 475). Which argument, if any, do you find most convincing? Which do you think the author finds most convincing?
  8. Hera provides a feminist critique of Galileo’s time period and attempts to show Galileo how a patriarchy damages women (p. 261). He eventually embraces this understanding after his encounter with the Jovian intelligence (pp. 397-398). How does this connect to the rest of the book’s theme and plot? Would you consider Galileo’s Dream a feminist work?
  9. Ganymede asserts that in the future, exposure to a vastly greater intelligence sent all of humanity into despair (p. 387). But Galileo is able to easily adapt to the 31st century’s more advanced mathematics and science, and Galileo, Aurora, and Hera all react positively to the Jovian intelligence. What makes their time stream different from Ganymede’s?
  10. Galileo persuades Hera to help him rescue the Galileo who burned at the stake. He does so knowing that “even if I saved myself an infinite number of times, there would still be an infinite number of me that I hadn’t saved” (p. 478). On that level, all analepses are futile, and yet the 31st century Jovians make many of them—at the cost of entire planets. Did you find their motivations convincing?
  11. Like our last read, Galileo’s Dream ends with the reveal that the book was a manuscript written by one of its characters. Did you find Cartophilus’s asides added to the book? Do you believe he is a reliable narrator?
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