Book Review: The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark

I absolutely love this title, beautifully poetic while presenting the concept behind the science in this book. This is the first in an unusual trilogy that follows some of history’s most famous scientists. This is a series that aims to put the SCIENCE into science fiction and fuse the genre with some of the more complex examples of modern historical fiction. It blends discovery and adventure with high ideals of political power, presenting ideas that go beyond the concepts and highlights the ramifications of the Copernican view in a world sticking to geocentrism.

Europe is at war with itself; it is an ideological war between Catholic and Protestant and between Christians of all denominations and the growing upstarts of science. It is the birth of the Enlightenment and the Reformation has passed meaning that there is a clear division between Christian ideologies on the continent that more often than not spills over into minor violence or all out rioting in the streets.

Enter the two protagonists of the story: Johannes Kepler and Galilei Galileo. Two very big personalities, two colossi of renaissance science, one in Catholic Italy and the other in Protestant Bohemia both saying pretty much the same thing. One who would die under house arrest and the other being championed as a voice of reason in the new Protestant order until he too refuses to take sides. Both are matter of some debate between the various religious powers wishing to use them as pawns but both men are resisting the power play in their own ways.

But it is also about the people around them as well as about them and the world around them. Galileo has the ear of a future Pope who is eventually pushed into turning against him. Galileo seems to have the support of a lot of people, except the woman he never marries. This is far less about the “warts and all” approach of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Galileo’s Dream being far less of a biography but that’s fine as the book doesn’t really require that level of detail.

I never really knew much about Kepler’s life and consequently he appears to go through some very similar struggles in being pushed one way and then the other, seeking and gaining approval. The stresses of his marriage against his scientific discoveries as his wife complains bitterly that he is not getting paid for his work and all he seems to do is seek approval from various royal patrons.

Despite the subject matter, the politics and the complex personalities of these two men, this book is incredibly easy on the eye. It is easy to read and the complex political machinations are dealt with effectively without glossing over the details or bogging the reader down in too much of it.

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