>Friday evening we went to a meeting of the local astronomy club and listened to Kim Stanley Robinson talk about his new novel, Galileo’s Dream. He talked about the book with respect to the importance of Galileo’s contributions in science, the environment out of which his discoveries sprang, and how the 400 years of post-Galilean scientific inquiry have been important socially.
I’ve wanted to attend an event featuring Mr. Robinson for some time, maybe two or three years, since I first read The Wild Shore which I stumbled upon kind of randomly. Once I found out that he lives in my town, I was curious about his other work – wondering what a local writer would be like, what topics and concerns would play out across the pages. When I spent part of the summer in Maryland the following year I found Forty Signs of Rain at the public library and read it, appreciating the setting as I was close to Washington, D.C. and experiencing the weather and locale while I read about it. I liked his characters, his hardworking and well-meaning scientists and appreciated the Himalayan culture, what with my connection through Dantseng’s work, of the monks from Khembalung who featured in the story.
Tonight I enjoyed listening to him, he’s obviously done a lot of research and is comfortable talking about both history and the future. Several people asked him questions about Jupiter (as his Galileo’s Dream has to do with Galileo’s discoveries about the moons of Jupiter), but I couldn’t resist asking one process question. He had said, just as an aside (but it caught my attention!) that he had been “privy to cutting edge historical research” that allowed him to take his story in interesting directions, so I asked him if he was willing to talk about that a little. He seemed pleased that I brought it up and told us about working periodically with several University of California scientists and the UCLA scholar he was privileged to meet who helped him with some of the details of Galileo’s life. We didn’t have time and I didn’t want to hog the floor, but I would’ve liked to have heard more about how one goes about accessing “cutting-edge” information. Being on the forefront of research (or knowing what the forefront is), I would imagine, is a good position to be in as a science fiction writer, and personally, it’s that kind of research that could get my imagination going, get ideas racing.
Kestral and Owl and one of their friends attended and I was so pleased Owl had thought to bring along our copy of Red Mars (which neither of us has read yet as we just got it last month and it’s still in the stack of what’s waiting). This kid, who for years has read nothing but fantasy, is finally expanding a little and after hearing his talk and feeling excited about the topics he touched on, and then when he signed the book to her, was just giddy with delight. The whole way home she and her friend speculated about life on Mars and conjectured on viable methods of space travel. Her friend has been working on a NaNoNovel that’s a scifi/fantasy blend that involves variable dimensions and time/space warpiness and so Owl’s starting to explore similar things too, and has just checked out Carl Sagan’s Small Blue Dot. She’s hoping we’ll go to Mr. Robinson’s book signing next week (and skip Chinese school) and she says she’ll have Red Mars read by then. I can see that nothing is going to get done in the housework department if that’s the case.
In the end, all three of us writers-in-training laughed with understanding when Mr. Robinson mentioned how the whole thing had started for him: “The image I had was Galileo standing in Padua, looking at the moons of Jupiter through the telescope of his own invention, and then suddenly he was through the telescope and standing there on that moon.” He went on to say that his agent liked the idea, the editor liked the idea and bought it, and then there he was with this idea he had to turn into a book! It was a strong image, but what next?
It gave me a bit of consolation – we all start out with nothing but an idea. Look what’s possible, though; everything in the known universe and beyond into speculation.