Seven Secret Lives

I’ve just finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s most recent book, Galileo’s Dream. It’s many things – including a very satisfying historical novel, and an attempt to grapple with the role of science in society. In this latter, it is part of a project that Robinson has been engaged in for a long time – through the Mars Trilogy and the more recent “Science in the Capital” series (Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting, and perhaps Antarctica as well.)

It’s a profound issue, and Robinson also makes a compelling case in these books for its vital importance – in particular as a way to confront and confound the processes of what he once called “Götterdämmerung capitalism” that are behind climate change/global warming as well as much of the poverty and misery that still torments the world, despite our enormous technical and scientific achievements and the immense wealth and power humanity has at its disposal.

But while Robinson is a great “big picture” writer, a writer of ideas and often of an epic scope, what makes him such a rewarding and poweful writer, so pleasurable to read, is his humanity, and his grounding in the lives and feelings of his characters. How alive Galileo becomes for us reading this book (and also how like Sax from the Mars books).

And there are moments when Robinson is just writing about what it means to be human, to be alive, when he strikes a real chord with me – when, like Galileo, I feel as if I am a bell that has been wrung:

We all have seven secret lives. The life of excretion; the world of inappropriate sexual fantasies; our real hopes; our terror of death; our experience of shame; the world of pain; and our dreams. No one else ever knows these lives. Consciousness is solitary. Each person lives in that bubble universe that rests under the skull, alone. (p. 280)


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