"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

QMBC XIII: Galileo's Dream

Reading: Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
Venue: Bull & Castle in Christchurch, Dublin


McGavin and Jameson were the first to arrive at the venue. Syme followed presently. Food was ordered as the clock moved ever closer to the pre-agreed time for the meeting to commence. Clay arrived with some visible relief in a grey area with various time-pieces present showing a range of times from 6:57 to 7:02. In any case, Clay’s arrival is duly recorded as being 'on time'. Duly noted.

With some brief niceties out of the way, Clay opened his copy of Galileo’s Dream and continued reading. It became immediately apparent that although he was on time for the meeting, he was still some pages from completing the book. No doubt the furrowed brows were racing through the 24 succinct rules of the QMBC. Number 12 was perhaps bending slightly under the pressure, but like any well made rule there is adequate give without it breaking.


Although Clay’s timeliness relative to 7 could be measured with the sweeping second-hand of any Swiss made time-piece, McCarthy’s arrival would more easily be captured using a calendar. Be it Gregorian, Hijri, Lunar or Solar. The point here is that McCarthy arrives late. Although with McCarthy’s eventual arrival, this would complete the quintet of remaining QMBC members still primarily residing in Dublin. In the current severe economic trough, it was inevitable that the QMBC would feel the cold hand of economic trough on our collective shoulder. The first to depart was Paddington who crossed the water to not so distant London. Whether it was for reasons of career advancement, to be closer to his tailor or to simply grow a beard he will acknowledge inquiries with no more than a wry smile. As to the rumour that he was disqualified from driving in Ireland for speeding and that he had to emigrate to a separate jurisdiction in order to be allowed to drive on public roads, this is nothing more than a complete fiction. Although it would be broadly consistent.

Webb was the second to depart, adopting the moniker of 'World Wide Webb'. He felt it was high time he paid a visit to his various interests in the Far East and sub-antipodean continent. "Nothing helps the bottom line like the threat of a well heeled brogue to the posterior. It works in Cork, it will work in those damnable places too! Now what time is the Captain hosting me to his table?" was the last that was heard from Webb as he boarded a clipper to Britain. Quite why he was explaining his thoughts on motivation to the porter was unclear. He's some character.

We (including you, Dear Reader) wish both these QMBC brethren Godspeed on their travels.

The Executive Committee

However, back to the Bull & Castle - with thoughts of the departed to the fore in each of our minds no doubt, the first point of business was suggested by Jameson. He suggested that the four initial attendees that evening (Sans McCarthy - that's French for 'without', although it would perhaps be a more fitting moniker) should become the QMBC Executive Committee. This was seconded by Clay. The motion was passed unanimously. In keeping with QMBC traditions it is unclear what this title means but Clay suggested that there should be a new series of tiered QMBC-online business cards produced with the Executive Committee members having theirs made out of a different quality card. Clay took note to investigate feasibility.

All agreed on the fine location for the meeting. A capital selection of bespoke and world beers were available along with a fine array of “pub grub”. McGavin did have trouble with the burger though to the point where it became minute-worthy. Jameson shared McGavin’s troubles going a step further in identifying that the problem was due to “no cohesion”. Five sachets of condiments were required to cement the remaining crumbs into something manageable. Clay mumbled an expletive at this point in apparent reference to events in the last few pages followed shortly afterwards by an enthusiastic “Done and done”. McGavin noted the time at 7.11.

Too Much Galileo?

With completion of vittles, we moved on to the disputation. Clay began with, "Was the author too into Galileo?” He alluded to the similar problem with Cobra in that both authors had misunderstood that complete immersion into the minutiae of a subject does not necessarily make for a more enjoyable read and more often distracts from the story line. McGavin agreed that this book is certainly one for the Galileophiles. Still reeling from a difficult burger, McGavin went to his usual refuge of being confused. “Who is the narrator?” It was agreed that the style of narration (it only becoming apparent more than half way through that it is narrated by someone present) is unusual. This was perhaps one of the reasons why Clay declared the book a “complete displeasure to read. It’s far too long”. This was generally agreed with. We are lead to believe here that Clay was suggesting it was too long in a grander sense rather than the fact he needed 11 additional minutes. Jameson suggested it was perhaps 200-300 pages too long. This was met with nodding heads. Although to say it was a complete displeasure is doing it an injustice as will be seen below.

Low Expectations

Everyone was in agreement that the historic parts of the book were more enjoyable than the futuristic components. Clay did comment that he liked the story when it was Galileo going around "cavorting, drinking and doing science". There followed a lively discussion of some of the more "orgy-ish" parts, in particular the events around Carnival in Venice and the masquerade balls. McGavin at this point pulled out his QMBC cliché in admitting that he “didn’t get it.” The usual admonishments followed. There were some specific discussions about whether the beings from the future were humans and if so, how much larger they were. The discussion then returned to generally how bad the book was. Jameson said that he didn’t expect much from it, and that his expectations were met. McGavin went a step further saying the book was terrible. Clay felt he had regressed to a secondary-school-level reader as he kept looking at how many pages there were to go considering “How many more reads do I have to do?” McGavin whom everyone is aware prefers fact-based books was unimpressed by the “rubbish” interwoven between the historic parts with trips to Jupiter. We further discussed how enjoyable the scenes in medieval Italy were. Galileo certainly appeared to lead an interesting life.

There then followed a rather unusual discussion in which Clay stated that he had always thought Galileo had been killed by the Church. Adding further to Clay's confusion was the fact that he thought Galileo was not burnt at the stake but had actually been thrown from the roof of a monastery in Rome. The constant references to burning at the stake were a source of some confusion during Clay’s reading and even at the end of the book, he was surprised that KSR would leave it so counter to what happened in (Clay's perception of) real life with Galileo living out his retirement. Clay only discovered the end of the book was actually true, at the meeting. Even more bizarrely perhaps, was his further admission that he had actually been to the monastery where the previously mentioned throwing-from-roof had occurred. What we are to make of this is unclear. Although given the book's time travelling theme and constant flirtations with historic 'what-ifs', we can't entirely discount the possibility that Clay has had some experience of a parallel history where his version of events has taken place. We simply don't know. Stranger things have happened at sea.

There then followed a discussion about which parts of the book were real. Everyone agreed that it was interesting so many of the records are available from Galileo's various hearings. The general consensus was that a book set solely in Italy would have been a much more enjoyable read. And with that agreement reached, Jameson brought the discussion to the Jupiter visit that involved Galileo swimming behind Hera with her up ahead "pulsing like a mare in heat". This held the attention of the discussion for several minutes. McGavin probed the issue further. "Hera, would ya?" The discussion continued again in earnest although nothing of a substantive literary nature was determined beyond the fact that Hera is an extraordinary character. She varies from initially being a bystander to Ganymede's meddling in human history, to actively intercepting Galileo mid-flight to Jupiter, to flying about in space as the apparent leader of a group of factionists on some rebel moon orbiting Jupiter, to carrying on as the wife of an aristocrat in medieval Italy. And then there's the swimming about pulsing during Carnival. Whatever else we can say about Hera, it's clear to all that she must have some incredible craic.

Wonder Truss

This nether region discussion allowed a nice segue into Galileo and his wonder truss. Syme was visibly distressed recalling the near constant references to it. McGavin, ever the fact-hound wanted to know why they didn't fix the hernia permanently. Jameson check-mated McGavin by saying that he had a truss so it was fixed. The many references to it were agreed by all to have been overdone. Perhaps another nod towards the Galileophiles? Although perhaps if one had a massive recurring extended prolapsed hernia and lived a stressful life, one would be a little put out on occasion too.

Despite the vulgar nature of so many QMBC discussions, Clay admitted he didn't like the phrase "jakes" and the surrounding detailed events. McGavin declared similar annoyance with the character of Cartophilus. McGavin's principal reason was the rather unusual one of Cartophilus alluding to the fact he was the original wandering Jew and that he'd been doing it for 800 or 900 years. There were some nods at this perceptive piece of analysis until McGavin continued by suggesting his main issue was that it would be impossible to live so long on a Medieval diet. Both Jameson and Clay were able to counter by stating that both Noah and Methuselah lived for that long also. Nicely played gentlemen, nicely played.


Clay did like the numerous references to drinking. A high point for him was the realisation that a large bottle of wine was referred to as a fiasco. Clay could recall a number of events that involved fiascoes, where wine was present at some. Had Paddington been there he no doubt would have enjoyed discussing this choice quote:
"At the Villa Costozza they joined their convivial host and did just what they would have done at home, eating and drinking, talking and laughing, while the Count opened bigger and bigger bottles of wine, until they were hoisting fiascoes and balthazars and small casks, and had eaten most of three geese, along with condiments, fruits, cheese, and a great number of pies; and all on a day so hot that even here in the hills they were sweating greasily."
And then the piece of the resistance;
"Finally the Count was overcome, and staggered off to vomit like a Roman."
Although this was a particularly enjoyable section of the book with Galileo recalling this event from earlier in his life, it is with some annoyance that KSR returns to this at the climax of the book.

While on the topic, McGavin stated that "a Roman orgy has nothing to do with sex. It's about eating." Clay in the spirit of the evening and further alluding to Galileo's adventures expressed some surprise that it was solely a gastronomic affair although he didn't use so eloquent a phrase noting instead "It was all guns blazing!" It should be noted that it was only on a second reading of the notes of the evening that the unusualness of McGavin's use of the present tense in describing Roman orgies would strike your minute taker.

With the topic severely gone off, Clay took us back to the book by reading a section that had to do with Galileo learning about multiple dimensions.
"The vector nature of the manifold also accounts for many of the temporal effects we experience, like entropy, action at a distance, temporal waves and their resonance and interference effects, and of course quantum entanglement and bilocation, which you yourself are experiencing because of the technology that was developed to move epileptically. In terms of what we sense, fluctuations in this manifold also account for most of our dreams, as well as less common sensations like involuntary memory, foresight, deja vu, presque vu, jamais vu, nostalgia, precognition, Ruckgriffe, Schwanung, paralipomenon, mystical union with the eternal or the One, and so on."
And so on indeed Mr Robinson! Although perhaps Clay experienced some one of those when he thought that Galileo had been thrown off a roof.

Fiction - A Harsh Mistress

The section that tried to describe Galileo's advanced learning of every bit of knowledge that was discovered from his time onwards was agreed by all to be severely overdone and out of place. Both Syme and Jameson captured the feeling towards that whole section by suggesting they'd have been as happy if they just reversed the polarity on the dylithium crystals. Quick pseudoscience would have been much less painful than the long drawn out scenes this book inflicts on the reader. Syme again questioned if this book would have been better if there were no future sections? Jameson positively responded before Syme finished the 'ture' part of 'future'. Clay said he would have preferred a separate book about time travellers trying to change things. Clay and Jameson were in agreement on this. Syme in particular liked the early scenes developing the telescope. As each member suggested some positives, all eyes turned to McGavin who said he was disappointed that Newton was not in the pretend-future-cyborg-teacher's top 3 mathematicians of all time. "It annoys me." Fiction can be a harsh Mistress, McGavin.

Quite a sizable part of the discussion of the night centered around how the book could have been better. I think if the QMBC had the ability to bring KSR to the future to hear his book being discussed, he would have been sent back to his typewriter (or whatever archaic devices they used to write books on in 2009) with more than a few solid tips. The suggested improvements would have turned this book from a simple book of pages, into a book of real page-turner-pages.

Clay then presented a hope he had early in the book that Hera and Ganymede would turn out to be the original Greek gods that had lived on Earth eons ago. Disappointingly for him, this didn't turn out to be the case. Equally disappointing for all was a brief spell of googling for that vein of internet fetish that had to do with cartooned images of giant amazonian-like women. Filters would prevent the research from reaching any concrete conclusions. Although Jameson was able to find a picture of a sexy bunny.

McGavin's main (read as 'next') problem with the book was the fact that Galileo could be in two places at once. Syme's attempts to explain the entanglement fell on deaf ears. Perhaps in showing some confused brotherhood with McGavin at the reality of future-Jupiter, Clay was surprised why then, if Galileo could take an "advanced learning pill" to figure out their problems, didn't everyone else just do the same? It is not recorded, but presumably McGavin was annoyed by this also. And if not then, then most likely now. Fiction can be a harsh Mistress, McGavin.

McCarthy Arrives

Like some Ruckgriffe from a previous incantation, Sans McCarthy arrived at 7:54 (on the same day it should be noted in fairness). McCarthy wasted no time in getting down to the discussion with an observation that the book is "bloody long although the astronomy bits are interesting." McCarthy was peppered with questions upon arrival. His liking of the truss is noted. No reason given. Better in than out, one supposes. Now that the QMBC's resident Catholic expert was present, some ecclesiastical issues could be dealt with. There was a brief discussion about whether or not Newton was Catholic. The various trials & hearings were again discussed. Jameson liked the inquisition and the book of rules which make it impossible to go against previous rulings. Perhaps if Galileo had the keen legal counsel of McCarthy and Jameson he might have fared better against the Vatican's various ontological arguments. "Contra-Preferentum my good man. Defence rests."

In fairness to KSR, he was credited as being a good narrator. He does create some very effective imagery. There was a brief discussion about Galileo's liking of blue sky. Syme liked the character of his daughter. McGavin nodded "significantly" at this reference. McGavin said that he would like to see a truss. Syme expressed perhaps more understandable enthusiasm at wanting to see the military compass that Galileo invented.

McGavin questioned if the book was well written. Syme was alone in believing so. Clay shared the belief somewhat in that individual scenes were well constructed but that overall it wasn't a very good read. Clay was particularly troubled with there being too many characters with similar names, interests, alliances and this made it too hard to follow. Syme agreed pointing out that the importance of several characters changed over Galileo's life. Clay was nodding but it was clear he didn't know whom Syme was referring to.

Where's Kepler's Dream?

McCarthy liked the verbatim quotes and believed that overall the book was not an implausible concept. There was a "humourous discussion" about Kepler and his theory that time squared was equal to distance cubed. One can only presume that both the humour and scientific nuances of the discussion requires the reader to have been there.

Syme liked that Galileo despaired when Kepler starts a sentence with "Clearly...". It seemed there was more interest in a book about the comedic adventures of Kepler than the interplanetary/temporal adventures of Galileo. This perhaps says more about KSR's book than it does about the nerdish tendencies of the QMBC members.

McGavin agreed saying that he could never understand how anyone would recommend this book, he muttered that he still "didn't understand it". Clay did agree somewhat by saying that two thirds of the way through the book, it was still unclear to him what the story was about. Syme added a bit more weight to the negative discussion with this succinct universal - "If you can't summarise the plot of a story in a single sentence, it's too complicated."
It seems that all were contemplating the depth of this; applying it in turn to various literary tomes, essays, novels and film favourites. Clay was presumably thinking "They're trying to break into a safe in a tall building and a cop tries to stop them. One and done."

McGavin's thoughts were less about this pocket sized piece of wisdom that could be used to appraise any work of fiction than.. "Why was he brought to Jupiter?" McGavin wanted to know also why there were no reference to people living on Earth in the future-Jupiter scenes. He "would have enjoyed it". Everyone disagreed with him on this point. Fiction can be a harsh Mistress, McGavin.

There Are No Folk Like Carnie Folk

The degree to which this book annoyed McGavin was clear when he said he was annoyed by the scenes of Carnival on Jupiter. The comparison of the Carnival he is used to happening every year in his office which contains such hijinx as the cutting of ties and the eating of cake did not seem to compare with the extreme hedonistic events of future-Jupiter with comparable activities of genital docking and general complete debauched nakedness. Although referencing the nakedness, he did try to save some face. "Don't get me wrong, I loved it!"

Perhaps mirroring the back and forth nature of the subject material, the end of the discussion jumped around a number of areas. Jameson questioned why Galileo shipped his daughter out to a convent. This evoked general puzzlement. It is perhaps a failing of KSR and his Galileo knowledge that he couldn't adequately describe why this was necessary.

Rats! Where's Our Protection?

McGavin enjoyed the copulation scene where a rat came across and bit Galileo on the ear. Everyone apparently enjoyed this scene as it was discussed with some gusto.

Move Along KSR

Syme stated that this book will stay with him. It was with apparent glee that Clay referenced an earlier meeting and that in relation to this book he "had read every page but not every word". Syme - yet again having to defend his nomination - said that KSR had written a successful Mars trilogy about a competing USA/USSR race to space. Clay suggested that "KSR can **** off with that".

There was a final pondering of why Hera didn't cure Galileo. This was an unusual part of the book. Given the apparent closeness of Galileo and Hera (having shared a mind meld) it's strange that she wouldn't cure him so that they could live out their days tickling each other's genitals/intellects. There was general dismay also at the climatic scene where old-Galileo (spoiler alert) goes back in time to rescue parallel-dimension-old-Galileo from certain immolation and replaces the young-dead-Galileo with parallel-dimension-bit-burnt-old-Galileo during that day of drinking in the hills when young-Galileo apparently dies. Thus creating some sort of perpetuating loop. Perhaps ironic also that KSR describes only the wine containers as a fiasco.

There was a brief historical discussion about the plague with the general ascersion that had QMBC members been present at the time, that they would have collectively stayed away from rats. Syme discussed further the character of Galileo saying that he was "arrogant intellectually, but saw his place in the world". Syme went further saying that he feels quite an intimate connection with him because he has "taken shits with Galileo". It was unclear to those present why KSR should go into such detail describing Galileo's bowel movements
"'I can't belive it - it could only happen to me - I got the runs so bad I've shitted myself a second asshole.' And he wasn't just repeating the old joke; right in the peritoneum, about halfway between his anus and his balls, the bottom of his guts actually had burst through all the but outermost layer of skin."
The discussion continued with Clay querying why if Galileo was such a masterful experimental scientist he didn't do some experiments on his own diet, if passing anything other than a mustard seed was such a problem for him.

World Wide Webb

It was at this point that Jameson read Webb's verdict which had been received by telegram earlier in the day. Included below:


The QMBC moved their focus to time travel and how it's dealt with in the book. McGavin's main problem was how did Galileo's body stay on earth and what happened the molecules at the location where he appeared on future-Jupiter. There was general agreement that both Terminator and Back To The Future handled time travel much more adequately. Clay was keen to include Time Cop too.

And with time travel concluded, the group moved to the scores.

The Scores

Tiger McGavin:
Action - 2/13
Well Writteness - 3/13
Sexiness - 4/8 "Got me there. Not fully"
Quincey Morrisness - 5/10 (Galileo rescues self from immolation on horseback)
Interestingness - 10/17
Unputdownableness - 1/22
Total: 25/83

Atticus McCarthy:
Interestingness - 10/15
Quincey Morrisness - 5/15
Action - 3/10
Execution - 10/20
Unputdownableness - 5/10
Discussability - 5/13 (Syme: "Despite having missed half the discussion...")
Forgetability - minus 5
Total: 33/83

Mycroft Webb:
Quincey Morrisness - 5/16
Actionness - 10/15
Well Writteness - 11/15
Interestingness - 11/15
Unputdownableness - 12/22
Total: 49/83

Whitby Syme:
Plot - 9/20
Execution - 8/20
Characters - 18/20
Food for thought - 6/10
Extra points - 4/13
Total: 45/83

Carl Jameson:
Concept - 9/10
Unputdownableness - 5/13
Well Writteness - 10/20
Quincey Morrisness - 5/10
Plot - 0/10
Memorableness - 0/10
Total: 29/83

William Clay:
Plot - 0/10
Galileoness - 7/5
Interestingness - 18/68
Total: 25/83

Average for Galileo's Dream: 34.3

One Sentence Summaries

Clay: "Merging sci-fi with time travelling to help people in the past? That's a quantum leap."
(or: "Galileo was a nice guy. Always truss' a man with a hermia.")

McGavin: "I wish KSR had worn a truss to stop this book spewing out his second asshole."

Webb: "Honestly, I found Galileo's Dream really hard to call - Genoa I mean? It took awhile to get going so I was leaning towerds it being a real Pisa shit at the start. However, I got into it and it Turin'ed to be a fairly enjoyable read!"

McCarthy: (With a Kerry accent) "Hera it was too long."

Syme: "I feel like I've been around the solar system with Galileo, with many stops in the jakes along the way."

Jameson: "Portable pocket syncope."


The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet - Reif Larsen

Zone One - Colson Whitehead
Embedded - Dan Abnett

Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
(Vetoed by McCarthy. Clay: "We dodged a bullet!")
Djibouti - Elmore Leonard

Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Apocalypse - D. H. Lawrence

Red Harvest - Dashiell Hammett

The Voting

Zone One-0200200300700
Red Harvest10010010000300

* unashamed and unabashed tactical voting

Winner: Zone One by Colson Whitehead.

McCarthy suggested a re-rating of previous books might be a worthy endeavour. Clay goes on record as saying Grapes of Wrath was pretty good, but still painfully long.

1 comment:

  1. Clay,

    I believe that you are responsible for these minutes - excellent work.

    It was as if I had been transported by virtue of some magical eyepiece through time and ether to that fateful night back in November.

    I had feared of late that my recent absence from proceedings was leading to a creeping lassitude among members in the recording and production of archival minutes for the QMBC. Thankfully, there is no lackadaisical-ness on your part.

    Fret not, upon my imminent return, I will quash the upstart rising of the QMBC Executive Committee with techniques perfected in China and then I will investigate exactly what happened to the minutes for QMBC XI and XII.

    The truth will out sirs!

    Yours sincerely,

    Mycroft Webb QMBC