CELESTIAL MATFERS by Richard Garfinkle


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In newcomer Garfinkle's outrageous alternate world, the natural laws as understood by the ancient Greeks are literally true. So, the Earth, at the center of the universe, is surrounded by crystal spheres, the planets move in epicycles, space contains air, the gods talk to and through people, and good health depends upon a balance of humors. Here, the Delian League--based on the unmatchable warriors of Sparta and the unequalled learning of the Athenian Akademe--has been at war with the Middle Kingdom for 900 years. Now, the distinguished scientist Alas, in his mile-long celestial ship sculpted of glowing moon-matter, has proposed to capture a fragment of the sun and scorch the Middle Kingdom (which has its own well-developed, incomprehensible, science) into submission. As the voyage to the sun gets under way, Aias and his bodyguard, the Spartan Captain Yellow Hare, realize that they have a Middler spy aboard. The ship's military suspect Aias's old friend, mathematician Ramonojon; the latter maintains that the sun-capture method worked out by scientist Mihradarius will destroy the ship. Who is lying? Prompted by the gods, and heeding the wisdom of a stowaway, the Middler scientist Phan, Alas comes to believe that his entire course of action is mistaken. But only after a long, strange trip will he find a means to resolve the situation. Weird, disconcerting, fascinating, and original--though readers may find the counterfactual workings of Gaffinkle's universe-that-never-was more puzzling than stimulating.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Tor