Intelligent Design. Cloning. Global warming. None of these make an explicit appearance in Galileo's Children: Tales of Science vs. Superstition, a 13-story anthology edited by Gardner Dozois, issued as part of the relatively new Pyr imprint. There is, however, no doubt that the tales here are relevant to some of today's hot-button issues.
With stories from such notables as Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula Le Guin, George R.R. Martin, and Robert Silverberg, there's little doubt the content packs a punch. (Dozois is no slouch himself, of course, having won an unprecedented 15 Hugo Awards for best editor and sixteen consecutive Locus Awards in the same category). While many of the stories focus on an express conflict between science and religious belief, others deal with the situations that arise when science confronts political zealotry and societal antipathy. The time span of the stories also reflects the enduring fascination of the struggle between science and doctrine for SF writers and readers.
There is Clarke's 1955 Hugo-winning work, "The Star," in which a Jesuit priest sent on a scientific mission makes a discovery that threatens his faith. One cannot help but wonder if and how it may have served as an inspiration for Mary Doria Russell's 1996 novel, The Sparrow. At the other end of the spectrum, the most recent entry in the collection is "Falling Star" by Brendan DuBois, from 2004. DuBois examines the effects on society and those who believe in science when the populace blames science for the catastrophic results of a hacker's act.
With stories drawn from five decades, there are some powerhouses, particularly James Alan Gardner's "Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream" and Mike Resnick's "When the Old Gods Die." The former is a three-stage exploration, via alternate history, of the cumulative effect of religious and political inquisitions on even those who believe they are serving and protecting the scientific method. The latter raises interesting questions about what is best for a utopian space colony founded on ancient tribal principles, when its younger generations learn of the practical benefits of the science of other cultures—practices the colony's founders intentionally avoid to preserve the tribal principles.
The short story is an excellent vehicle for addressing the broad range of areas in which science and superstition can come into conflict. Trying to encompass the various areas and types of conflict in novel format may well result in a meandering and unfocused work, such as some of the later novels of Philip K. Dick. The short story format, however, requires the author to focus the reader's attention on a particular point or issue, without extended soliloquies or many opportunities for lecturing. Perhaps this leaves readers more free to draw their own conclusions.
Galileo's Children does not seek to engage the reader in protracted debate over any particular clash between science and belief. Likewise, other than setting science apart from religious or political ideology, the stories here do not take sides in the Intelligent Design debate, the politics of global warming or most other current sources of conflict. Instead, the anthology does something more important. It puts concise speculative fiction to one of its best uses—providing a mechanism and setting that attempts to keep our own predispositions out of the mix, and think more honestly of the broader issues raised by any conflict between science and dogma.
Tim Gebhart lives in Sioux Falls, SD, where he practices law in order to provide shelter for his family, his dog, and his books.