The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth
At the dawn of the 17th century, two very different men set out to prove Copernicus’s hypothesis that the sun, rather than the earth, is at the centre of creation. While German Protestant Johannes Kepler uses his mathematical mind to try to anticipate the movements of Mars and the other planets, Roman Catholic Galileo Galilei develops his ‘optical tube’, which reveals stars never yet seen by human eyes.
But both men are on a collision course with the spiritual and political authorities, risking their lives and spiritual salvation when their quest for the truth leads to accusations of heresy.
This is the first novel of a projected trilogy by prominent astronomer and science writer Stuart Clark. He makes good use of dialogue to try to explain to the layperson the basics of the astronomical and theological debates of the period.
He admits in his acknowledgements to tweaking the chronology to shape the novel. It’s just unfortunate that Kepler and Galileo’s careers are not quite parallel enough, with the result that, though he is mentioned earlier, it’s not till nearly halfway through the book that Galileo makes his first appearance, and that Kepler, arguably the character we get to know best, bows out before the end. But I was won over by Galileo’s touching mixture of arrogance, paternal guilt and political naivety.
Usually when reading a novel based on historical figures and true events, I find myself at some point asking what it’s based on. It’s a testament to Clark’s ability to tap into the 17th-century mindset that this time the question never arose. I’m really not knowledgeable enough to spot what is documented fact and what plausible conjecture.
An intelligent book that neither romanticises the past, nor distorts it to suit modern sensibilities.