Galileo’s Dream, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Second paragraph of third chapter:

It was indeed the stranger, tall and gaunt in a black cloak. Behind him hunched a short, gnarled old man, carrying a leather satchel over one shoulder.

I enjoyed this more than any of KSR’s books since The Years of Rice and Salt, with which it shares a fascination for the history of science. However, in this case we have not one alternate timeline, but two different epochs: the real historical life of Galileo Galilei as he first turns his telescope to the skies and gets into trouble with the church, and a far-future civilisation in Jupiter orbit that summons him to participate in their parties and plots, while also trying to preserve him from the awful fate that threatens him. I found the retelling of the much-retold story of Galileo’s life and tribulations very effective, though perhaps running out of steam towards the end. I didn’t get as much out of the far future narrative, where I found the means and motivation of the main characters more difficult to grasp. I still liked it more than Forty Signs of Rain, 2312 or Aurora. Galileo’s Dream was on the 2010 shortlist for the Clarke Award, but was beaten by The City & The City. Fair enough.

This was the most popular unread book I acquired in 2010. Next on that list is Cauldron, by Jack McDevitt.