Father Deitrich is the village priest of Oberhochwald, the village that will soon gain the name of Teufelheim, in later years corrupted to Eifelheim, in the year 1348, when the Black Death is gathering strength across Europe but is still not nearby. Deitrich is an educated man, knows science and philosophy, and to his astonishment becomes the first contact between humanity and an alien race from a distant star when their interstellar ship crashes in the nearby forest. It is a time of wonders, in the shadow of the plague.
Tom and Sharon, and Father Deitrich, have a strange and intertwined destiny of tragedy and triumph in this brilliant SF novel by the winner of the Robert A. Heinlein Award.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)|
About the Author
Michael Flynn is an Analog magazine alumnus whose fiction now appears regularly in all the major SF magazines. His major work of the 1990s was the Firestar series of novels.
Read an Excerpt
At Matins, The Commemoration of Sixtus II and His Companions
Dietrich awoke with an uneasy feeling in his heart, like a bass voice chanting from a darkened choir loft. His eyes flew open and darted about the room. A night candle guttering in its sconce cast capers over table and basin, prie-dieu and psalter, and caused the figure upon the crucifix to writhe as if trying to tear itself down. In the corners and angles of the room, shadows swelled enormous with their secrets. Through the east window, a dull red glow, thin as a knife across a throat, limned the crest of the Katerinaberg.
He took a long, stilling breath. The candle told Matins anyway; so, throwing the blanket aside, he exchanged nightshirt for cassock. Goose bumps puckered his skin and the short hairs rose on his neck. Dietrich shivered and hugged himself. Something will happen today.
By the window stood a small wooden table with a bowl and aquamanile upon it. The aquamanile was of chased copper and had the form of a rooster, with the feathers worked into it by a coppersmith's clever awl. When he tipped it, the water ran from the beak over his hands into the bowl. "Lord, wash away my iniquities," he murmured. Then he dipped his hands into the bowl and splashed the cold water onto his face. A good dousing would scatter the night fears. He broke a piece of soap off the cake and rubbed it on his hands and face. Something will happen today. Ach, there was prophecy! He smiled a little at his fear.
Through the window he noticed a light moving about at the base of the hill. It would appear, move a short space, then disappear, only to rematerialize after a moment and repeat the dance. He frowned, not quite knowing what it was. A salamander?
No. A blacksmith. Dietrich became aware of his tension only in the moment of its release. The forge lay at the bottom of the hill and the smith's cottage beside it. The light was a candle moving to and fro before an open window: Lorenz, pacing like a caged beast.
So. The smith — or his wife — was awake also, and evidently in a nervous state.
Dietrich reached for the aquamanile to rinse the soap off and a needle stabbed him in the palm. "Sancta Katherina!" He stepped back, knocking bowl and water pitcher to the floor, where the soapy water fanned across the flagstones. He searched his hand for wounds and found none. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he knelt and retrieved the aquamanile, handling it gingerly, as if it might bite him once again. "You are a froward rooster," he told the pitcher, "to peck me like that." The rooster, unmoved by the admonition, was returned to his place.
When he wiped his hands on a towel he noticed that his hairs stood away, as a dog's fur might bristle before a fight. Curiosity wrestled with dread. He pulled the sleeve of his cassock back and saw how his arm hairs rose also. It reminded him of something, long ago, but the memory wouldn't come clear.
Recalling his duties, he dismissed the puzzle and crossed to the prie-dieu, where the dying candle sputtered. He knelt, crossed himself and, pressing his hands together, gazed at the iron cross upon the wall. Lorenz, that very smith who prowled at the base of the hill, had fashioned the sacramental from an assortment of nails and spikes and, although it did not look much like a man upon a cross, it seemed as if it might, if only one looked deeply enough. Retrieving his breviary from the shelf of the prie-dieu, he opened it to where he had marked his morning office with a ribbon the day before.
"The hairs of your head are all numbered," he read from the prayer for Matins. "Do not be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows ..." And why that prayer on this particular day? It was too appropriate by far. He glanced again at the hairs on the back of his hand. A sign? But if so, of what? "The saints will exult in glory," he continued. "They will rejoice upon their couches. Give us the joy of communion with Sixtus and his companions in eternal beatitude. This we ask of Thee through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen."
Of course. Today was the feast day of Pope Sixtus II, and so the prayer for martyrs was called for. He knelt in silent meditation upon the steadfastness of that man, even in the face of death. A man so good as to be remembered eleven centuries after his murder — beheaded at the very celebration of the Mass. Above the tomb of Sixtus, which Dietrich himself had seen in the cemetery of Callistus, Pope Damasus had later inscribed a poem; and while the verses were not so good a poem as Sixtus had been a man, they told his story well enough.
We had better popes in those days, Dietrich thought and then immediately chastised himself. Who was he to judge another? The Church today, if not overtly persecuted by kings themselves nominally Christian, had become a plaything of the French crown. Subordination was a more subtle persecution, and so perhaps a more subtle courage was called for. The French had not cut Boniface down as the Romans had Sixtus — but the Pope had died from the manhandling.
Boniface had been an arrogant, contemptuous man with not a friend in the world; and yet, was he not also a martyr? But Boniface had died less for proclaiming the Gospel than for proclaiming Unam sanctum, to the great displeasure of King Philip and his court, whereas Sixtus had been a Godly man in an ungodly age.
Dietrich glanced suddenly over his shoulder, then chided himself for the start. Did he suppose that they would come for him, too? It was not beyond reason that they might. But what cause had the Markgraf Friedrich to seize him?
Or rather, what cause that Friedrich might know of?
Do not be afraid, the day's prayer had commanded, the most frequent command from the Lord's mouth. He thought again of Sixtus. If the ancients had not quailed even at death, why should his own heart, instructed by modern wisdom, harbor fear for no sound reason?
He studied the vagrant hairs on the back of his hand, brushed them flat, and watched them rise up again. How would Buridan have approached this problem, or Albrecht? He marked his place in the book for Lauds; then he placed a fresh hour-candle in the candlestick, trimmed the wick, and lit it with a taper from the stub of the old.
Albrecht had written, Experimentum solum certificat in talibus. Experiment is the only safe guide.
He silhouetted the woolen sleeve of his gown before the candle flame, and a smile slowly creased his lips. He felt that curious satisfaction that always enveloped him when he had reasoned his way to a question and then coaxed an answer from the world.
The woolen fibers of his sleeve stood also upright. Ergo, he thought, the impetus impressed upon his hair was both external and material, as a woolen cassock had no ghostly part to be frightened. So, the nameless dread that troubled him was no more than a reflection of that material impression upon his soul.
But the knowledge, however satisfying to the intellect, did not quiet the will.
Later, as Dietrich crossed to the church to pray the morning Mass, a whine drew his gaze to the shadowed corner beside the church steps and, in the flickering light from his torch, he saw a black and yellow dog cowering with its front paws crossed over its muzzle. The spots on its fur blended into the shadows so that it looked like some mad creature, half-dog and half — swiss cheese. The cur followed Dietrich with hopeful eyes.
From the crest of Church Hill, Dietrich saw that a lustrous glow, like the pale cast that bleached the morning skies, suffused the Great Woods on the far side of the valley. But it was too early — and in the wrong sky. Atop the church spire, blue-flamed corposants swirled around the cross. Had even those asleep in the cemetery been aroused by the dread? But that sign was not promised until the last days of the world.
He uttered a hasty prayer against occult danger and turned his back on the strange manifestations, facing the church walls, seeking comfort in their familiarity.
My wooden cathedral, Dietrich had sometimes called it, for above its stone foundation St. Catherine's oak walls and posts and doors had been whittled by generations of earnest woodsmen into a wild congeries of saints and beasts and mythic creatures.
Beside the door, the sinuous figure of St. Catherine herself rested her hand upon the wheel whereon they had thought to break her. Who has triumphed? her wan smile asked. Those who turned the wheel are gone, but I abide. Upon the doorposts, lion, eagle, man, and ox twisted upward toward the tympanum, in which the Last Supper had been carved.
Elsewhere: Gargoyles leered from the roof's edge, fantastic in horns and wings. In spring, their gaping mouths disgorged the flow of melting snows from the steep-pitched tiles of the roof. Under the eaves, kobolds hammered. On lintels and window jambs, in panels and columns, yet more fantastic creatures were relieved from the wood. Basilisks glared, griffins and wyverns reared. Centaurs leaped; panthers exuded their sweet, alluring breath. Here, a dragon fled from Amaling knights; there, a sciopod stood on his single enormous foot. Headless blemyae stared back from eyes affixed to their bellies.
The oaken corner-posts of the building had been carved into the images of mountain giants upholding the roof. Grim and Hilde and Sigenot and Ecke, the villagers called them; and Ecke, at least, seemed a proper name for a corner-post. Someone with a sense of humor had worked the pedestal of each column into the form of a weary and irritable dwarf upholding the giant and glaring with resignation at passersby.
The wonderful riot of figures, emerging from the wood but never entirely separate, seemed indeed to be a living part of it. Somewhere, he thought, there are creatures like these.
When the wind blew hard or the snow lay heavy upon the roof, the menagerie would whisper and groan. It was only the shifting and bending of joists and rafters, yet it often seemed as if Sigenot rumbled and dwarfish Alberich squeaked and St. Catherine hummed a small tune to herself. On most days, the murmuring walls amused him, but not today. With the unease that lay upon him, Dietrich feared that the Four Giants would suddenly unburden themselves and bring the whole edifice down upon him.
More than one cottage below the hill now showed a flicker of candlelight behind its windows, and atop Manfred's keep on the other side of the little valley, the night watch paced in unwonted alertness, peering first one way then another for the approach of some unseen enemy.
A figure stumbled toward him from the village, recovered, slipped in the dirt, and a thin sob carried in the early morning air. Dietrich raised his torch and waited. Was the heralded menace even now slouching brazenly toward him?
But even before it fell to its knees breathlessly before him, the figure had resolved itself into Hildegarde, the miller's wife, barefooted and with her hair a tangle, a hasty cloak thrown over her night smock. Dietrich's torchlight glimmered on an unwashed face. A menace she may have been, but of another and long-familiar sort.
"Ach, pastor!" she cried. "God has discovered my sins."
God, Dietrich reflected, had not had far to look. He raised the woman to her feet. "God has known all our sins from the beginnings of time."
"Then why has he awakened me today with such fear? You must shrive me."
Eager to put walls between himself and the foreboding miasma, Dietrich led Hilde into the church; and was disappointed, if not surprised, to find his anxiety undiminished. Holy ground might hold the supernatural at bay until the end of time, but the merely natural intruded where it would.
In the stillness Dietrich heard a soft whisper, as of a small wind or a running brook. Shading his eyes against the brightness of his torch, Dietrich discerned a smaller shadow crouched before the main altar. Joachim the Minorite hunched there, his hurried ejaculations rushing over themselves like a fleeing crowd, so that the words blended into an indistinct susurration.
The prayers cut off, and Joachim turned, rising in a quick, lithe movement. He wore a tattered, brown habit of long employment, carefully and repeatedly mended. The cowl shadowed sharply chiseled features: a small dark man with heavy brows and deep brooding eyes. He wet his lips with a quick motion of his tongue.
"Dietrich ...?" the Minorite said, and the word quavered a little at the end.
"Don't be afraid, Joachim. We all feel it. The beasts, too. It is some natural thing, a disturbance in the air, like silent thunder."
Joachim shook his head and a curl of black hair fell across his brow. "Silent thunder?"
"I can think of no better way to describe it. It is like the bass pipe of a great organ that makes the glass shiver." He told Joachim his reasoning with the wool.
The Minorite glanced at Hildegarde, who had lingered at the rear of the church. He rubbed both his arms under his robe and looked side to side. "No, this dread is God's voice calling us to repentance. It is too terrible to be anything else!" He cried this in his preaching voice, so that the words came back from the statues that watched from their niches.
Joachim's preaching favored gestures and colorful stories, while Dietrich's own closely reasoned sermons often had a soporific effect on his flock. Sometimes he envied the monk his ability to stir men's hearts; but only sometimes. Stirred, a heart could be a terrible thing.
"God may call," he instructed the younger man, "by wholly material means." He turned the young man with a gentle pressure on his shoulder. "Go, vest the altar. The Mass 'Clamavérunt.' The rubrics call for red today."
A hard man to deal with, Dietrich thought as Joachim left, and a harder one to know. The young monk wore his rags with greater pride than the pope in Avignon his gilded crown. The Spirituals preached the poverty of Jesus and His Apostles and railed against the wealth of the clergy; but the Lord had blessed not the poor, but the poor in spirit — "Beati pauperes spritu." A clever distinction. As Augustine and Aquinas had noted, mere poverty was too easily attained to merit such a prize as Heaven.
"Why is he here?" Hildegarde asked. "All he does is sit in the street and beg and rant."
Dietrich made no answer. There were reasons. Reasons that wore golden tiaras and iron crowns. He wished that Joachim had never come, for he could accomplish little else but draw attention. But the Lord had said, "I was a stranger, and you took me in," and He had never mentioned any exceptions. Forget the great events of the world beyond the woods, he reminded himself. They concern you no longer. But whether the world beyond the woods would forget him was another, and less comforting, thought.
In the confessional, Hildegarde Müller confessed to one small and petty act after another. She had damped the flour on the bags of grain brought to her husband for milling, the second worst-kept secret in Oberhochwald. She had envied the brooch worn by Bauer's wife. She had neglected her aged father in Niederhochwald. She seemed determined to work her way through the entire Decalogue.
Yet, two years past, this same woman had sheltered a ragged pilgrim on his way to the Church of St. Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Brian O'Flainn had walked all the way from Hibernia, at the very edge of the world, through a land in turmoil — for that year the English king had slaughtered the chivalry of France — only to be robbed of everything by the lord of Falcon Rock. Hilde Müller had taken this man into her house, nursed his sores and blisters; had given him new raiment from her scowling husband's garderobe, and had sent him on his way refreshed and hale. Against the theft and the jealousy and the covetousness, weight that in the pan, as well.
Sin lay not in the concrete act, but in the will. Behind the woman's recitation lay the cardinal sin of which these mean transgressions were but the visible signs. One could return a brooch or visit a parent; but unless the inner flaw were healed, repentance — however sincere the moment — would shrivel like the seed upon the bad ground.
"And I have taken pleasure with men who were not my lawful husband."
That being the worst-kept secret in Oberhochwald. Hildegarde Müller stalked men with the same cool deliberation with which Herr Manfred stalked the stags and boars that adorned the walls of Hof Hochwald. Dietrich had a sudden and disconcerting vision of what might dangle from Hildegarde's trophy wall.
Trophies? Ach! That was the inner sin. Pride, not lust. Long after the fleshly pleasures must have palled, the stalking and capture of men remained an affirmation that she could have whatever she desired whenever she desired it. Her kindness to the Irish pilgrim, too — not paradox but confirmation. She had done it for show, so that others could admire her generosity. Even her endless recitation of venial sins was a prideful thing. She was bragging.
Excerpted from "Eifelheim"
Copyright © 2006 Michael F. Flynn.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
List of Characters,
Map of Oberhochwald and Vicinity,
I. August, 1348: At Matins, The Commemoration of Sixtus II and His Companions,
1. Now: Sharon,
II. August, 1348: At Primes, The Commemoration of Sixtus II and His Companions,
III. August, 1348: At Compline, The Vigil of St. Laurence,
IV. August, 1348: The Feast of St. Clare of Assisi,
2. Now: Tom,
V. August, 1348: The Feast of St. Joachim,
VI. September, 1348: The Stigmata of St. Francis,
VII. September, 1348: The Apparition of Our Lady of Ransom,
VIII. October, 1348: Michaelmas to the Feriae Messis,
3. Now: Sharon,
IX. October, 1348: The Freiburg Markets,
X. November, 1348: The Commemoration of Florentius of Strassburg,
4. Now: Tom,
XI. November, 1348: The Kermis,
XII. January, 1348: Before Matins, The Epiphany of the Lord,
XIII. January, 1348: Rock Monday,
5. Now: Sharon,
XIV. February, 1348: Candlemas to the Ember Days,
XV. March, 1349: At Sext, Ember Wednesday,
XVI. March, 1349: Lent,
6. Now: Tom,
XVII. April/May, 1349: Until Rogation Sunday,
XVIII. June, 1349: At Tierce, The Commemoration of Ephraem of Syria,
XIX. June, 1349: At Nones, The Commemoration of Bernard of Menthon,
XX. June, 1349: From the Commemoration of St. Herve,
XXI. June, 1349: The Nativity of St. John the Baptist,
XXII. June, 1349: Until Nones, The Seven Holy Brothers,
7. Now: Sharon,
XXIII. July, 1349: The Feast of St. Margaret of Antioch,
XXIV. July, 1349: At Primes, The Commemoration of St. Hilarinus,
8. Now: Sharon,
XXV. July, 1349: Ferial Days,
9. Now: Tom,
10. Now: Anton,
A Note on Terms and Sources,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Eifelheim" is one of those transcendent science fiction stories where an author is able to treat very human and Earth-bound issues with a well-reasoned and fascinating gloss of aliens and science. Author Michael Flynn's alien mythos and capabilities are believable and seamlessly integrated into the very real history of plague-era Germany. The core of "Eifelheim" revolves around a middle-ages Catholic priest who manages a church in the high forests of Germany. This quiet little fairy tale village, Oberhochwald, is literally shaken at its' roots following a freakishly strong and sudden storm. Much more than a storm, an alien ship has crash-landed and Father Dietrich is thrust to the forefront of this tale of first contact. In parallel, two scientists - a historian and physicist - independently come across clues that slowly reveal why this village, over time, not only changed names to Eifelheim, but also completely disappeared from the historical map. Flynn does a masterful job of combining the root middle-ages story with the all-too-brief and tantalizing modern day vignettes. In combination, they build a compelling mystery with well-rounded and emotive characters (both human and alien). The heart of Flynn's book is really about discovery and the very human and relatable interactions between these beings from very different worlds and different societies. The aliens aren't just different biologically (they look like giant grasshoppers) and technologically, but they exist with an imbued sense of community and innately bred need to live within a very structured societal existence. As the historian delves deeper into the mystery of the missing village, he discovers the myth and legend behind Eifelheim. And this is where the story shines. Flynn builds a wonderful world out of this middle-ages town and the odd circumstances of its disappearance. Father Dietrich develops the initial and most poignant relationships with the aliens who come to be known as the Krenken and over time takes full advantage to turn these beings into new parishioners. I fear exposing too much of this wonderful story that is best read by unwrapping each layer after satisfying layer. Flynn marvelously reveals the inner character of humans and aliens alike while immersing the reader in the existence of life during middle ages Europe. The book touches on evolutionary theory, the age of religious and scientific enlightenment, and the thinking that propels the world out of the dark ages and into the brightness of the renaissance. "Eifelheim" is scientific and science fiction. It's also history and historical fiction. And while doing all of these things very well, the book is character driven and implemented so well by Flynn that it crosses the boundaries of traditional categorization.
An amazing book -- a wonderfully sensitive reflection on Medieval Christianity, albeit with a particularly modern bent -- a fascinating, thoroughly engrossing bit of escapism -- and an engaging mystery novel to boot -- I enjoyed it from the first page to the last -- others have said that the book has slow points, but I felt the pace was just right, in both its modern and medieval aspects
The "past" story felt much more interesting: you really felt like you were living in the medieval society (even with the visitors being around). The "present" storyline was slightly less interesting. Minus half a star for the language barrier that did not evolve (or lower) sufficiently over time in my mind.
EIFELHEIM is a unique first contact novel. An alien craft crashes on 14th century Earth, just outside an isolated village in Germany. The village priest, Father Dietrich, is a man of reason and science. He discovers the aliens and forms a connection to them, eventually introducing them into his village.Flynn depicts daily life in the Middle Ages in great detail, such that the village and its inhabitants became very real to me. Besides imbuing the story with historical interest, he also brings in quantum physics to explain interstellar flight, and even plays the two disciplines off one another in a parallel story that takes place in the present (or near future). A physicist and her historian boyfriend discover the secret history of Eifelheim and thus unlock the potential for humans to move into space.But most of the novel takes place in the past. Flynn depicts his medieval villagers and their alien visitors almost lovingly, as real people with real flaws who nonetheless are doing the best they can. But both the people and the aliens are victims of the larger forces of the universe. The aliens are stranded in a time when the technology to repair their ship simply doesn't exist, and they cannot get adequate nutrition from Earth food. Then the Plague comes to the village. This brings up religious and philosophical questions, which Father Dietrich asks: Are the aliens also children of God who can be saved? What is the meaning, if any, of their coming to that particular time and place on Earth? The answers are left up to the reader. In the end, the village itself is lost, its secret buried for 700 years, waiting for someone to happen upon it.
A captivating book, which posits that an alien spacecraft, filled with scientists, tourists and crew, crash lands in the woods near a medieval village. As they struggle to repair the craft, the aliens also try to survive in a strange world. The village pastor leads the villagers to assist the aliens even as he struggles to understand whether they are creatures with souls and therefore like people, or they are without souls and therefore like intelligent animals. Meanwhile, others believe they are demons. A parallel story in modern times finds a cliologist trying to unravel why the site of the village has never been repopulated after the decimation of the plague while his wife is exploring multi-dimensional physics. There are lots of discussions of theology and philosopy along with technology as interpreted by a 14th century perspective. Is it magic or natural science or the work of demons? I found this novel to be interesting for the depth of medieval lore. As well, I was intrigued by the way stranded aliens, named Krenken, are gradually introduced to a German feudal village. The cognitive dissonance is telling in that it is not dissimilar to how some present day communities respond to outsider groups of different culture or ethnicity. This book reminds me of Children of God by Mary Doria Russell in the way that it shows how difficult it is to communicate concepts. As well, it shows how difficult it is to communicate theology and religious beliefs.Flynn tries to unpack the idea of genetic destiny. The Krenkens, who evolved from insectile, colony-based ancestors, have a fundamentally different psychology and social structure than humans. As they become more human/humane I wonder what would have happened in a scenario where human travelers become stranded in a pre-industrial Krenken world.
Can a non-human creature have a soul? That is one of many questions Father Dietrich, pastor of a German village, has to ask himself when he encounters creatures whose spaceship has crashed in the nearby Black Forest in the year 1348. In many ways the medieval mind, steeped in gargoyles and other fantastical creations, may well have been better prepared for a first alien contact than the modern. Despite instinctive revulsion at the aliens¿ disturbingly demonic appearance, Dietrich soon recognises them as `neighbours¿ in the New Testament sense. The other villagers, however, need a bit of convincing...Though not an overtly Christian novel (you won¿t find it at Koorong), Eifelheim is a terrific realisation of the lost world of Middle Ages Christendom, and Father Dietrich is one of the most inspiring Christian characters I have ever seen portrayed in fiction. A deeply rational man, he applies his considerable powers of reason to follow the logical consequences of a faith that is deeper still, to their ultimate, quite moving conclusion.
plague meets aliens. But a really good book for all that.
This novel begs obvious comparison to Connie Wills¿s dual Nebula/Hugo Award winning Doomsday Book. Two separate story threads, one being present day, another lying in the Middle Ages; the difference being that Wills¿s work featured time travel while Eifelheim¿s nod to science fiction is first contact.Current day historian Tom Schwoerin discovers an unexplained anomaly, a 14th century, Black Forest population center which inexplicably disappears, and despite all accepted theory, is never reestablished. The Middle Ages thread explains how this comes about. Spicing up the present day narrative, is theoretical physicist Sharon Nagy, Schwoerin¿s domestic partner, whose groundbreaking theories on the speed of light ultimately merge with Schwoerin¿s research in a way that strains credibility to the extent that it actually detracts from the story.The medieval thread is told through the eyes of a priest, Dietrich, who discovers and befriends a group of aliens (the Krenken) whose spaceship has ¿appeared¿ in the forest surrounding his village. The Krenken obviously possess technology that is strange and new to the medieval villagers, who are split over whether to succor the endangered visitors or ¿kill the demons, whose presence may be connected to the rapidly spreading pestilence (Plague)¿.While I felt that Wills did a fine job in depicting the Middle Ages and the horror of the plague in Doomsday Book, her present day story thread was lacking in a way that Eifelheim¿s is not. With the exception of perhaps dabbling in theoretical physics too extensively, I found both narratives in this book to be engaging and thought provoking. While I thought the coincidental merger of the scientists¿ theories was irritating and ridiculous; of the two, I felt Eifelheim was the better effort.
This book lies at the intersection of two big interests of mine, medieval history and science fiction, and does a superb job of blending the two.The major story-line of the book takes place in the 1300s, in a town near a forest where an alien ship crash-lands. The story is told from the point of view of the villagers, who discover the "demons", argue whether to help them or drive them away, and speculate about their motives and their relation to God.The minor story-line of the book, told in segments interwoven with the other, occurs in the present day and tells the story of a researcher who is in the process of discovering what happened to the mysterious medieval town of Eifelheim, which disappeared in the 1300's without a trace.The most appealing thing about this book, for me, was how incredibly well-researched it is. Not only does it make reference to real medieval people and events, but the author takes care to very clearly portray the mindset and daily lives of people in that time. The genius of the book is in the detail with which the author answers the question, "How WOULD people in the 1300's react to a spaceship?"There is also a lot of (for lack of a better term) "science-philosophy humor". For example: the aliens have a mechanical translator that is TRYING to translate from their own language into medieval German, to communicate with the humans. We only hear it from the human perspective, and the translator is having some difficulty. So you get beautiful dialogue like this: Alien: "What is the essence that gives impetus to matter?"Human: "Spirit. In Greek we say energia, which means that principle that works within or animates."Alien: "We know of a relationship between spirit and materials. We say that spirit equals material by the speed of light by the speed of light."The main plot of the storyline has to do with how the aliens try to repair their ship, the ways that the villagers help (and hinder) them, and what ends up happening to the village to wipe it off of the map. However, the main charm of the story, and the part that earns it high praise from me, is in dialogue like this: the struggle for communication between these two vastly different cultures, both of which are at once somewhat familiar and yet very different from the culture we live in today.
What would happen if aliens got stranded on Earth during the Middle Ages? Split into two different stories taking place during the Middle Ages and the present, Michael Flynn tackles this what-if in what I would argue is a very realistic way. The main story revolves around a small, German town and its inhabitants when they encounter a ship of aliens stranded in the nearby forest. Told from the point of view of the parish priest, it follows the events as the people become acquainted with these visitors, and what happens as a result. Simultaneously, the present day point of view tells of a scientist trying to uncover why Eifelheim was abandoned centuries before, for no apparent reason. Flynn does a good job in making the visitors suitably alien (no Star Trek aliens here), and the Middle Age inhabitants rational, thinking, realistic people (the Middle Ages were hardly as dark and unenlightened as is commonly accepted.)The ending is a bit abrupt, and the priest's naming of the aliens' contraptions feels rather stretched, but aside from that, a very enjoyable and interesting read.
"Eifelheim" is one of those transcendent science fiction stories where an author is able to treat very human and Earth-bound issues with a well-reasoned and fascinating gloss of aliens and science. Author Michael Flynn's alien mythos and capabilities are believable and seamlessly integrated into the very real history of plague-era Germany.I picked up "Eifelheim" for two reasons. I love a good story of first contact. I find myself continually drawn to the classics in this sci-fi genre, but also the classic tales of first contact of the very terrestrial kind: human exploration and discovery. Hernan Cortes and his first Aztec meetings as well as Pizarro and the Incas hold a special fascination for me, as do much of that era¿s tribal first contact with ¿civilizations¿.I also read this story because of a recommendation I'd found upon finishing Connie Willis' "Doomsday Book"...a terrific time travel/historical fiction tale also based in plague-era Europe. The books are very similar in their structure of parallel stories that bounce between medieval-specific storylines and modern plots and interactions that drive the overall plotlines.The core of ¿Eifelheim¿ revolves around a middle-ages Catholic priest who manages a church in the high forests of Germany. This quiet little fairy tale village, Oberhochwald, is literally shaken at its' roots following a freakishly strong and sudden storm. Much more than a storm, an alien ship has crash-landed and Father Dietrich is thrust to the forefront of this tale of first contact.In parallel, two scientists - a historian and physicist - independently come across clues that slowly reveal why this village, over time, not only changed names to Eifelheim, but also completely disappeared from the historical map.Flynn does a masterful job of combining the root middle-ages story with the all-too-brief and tantalizing modern day vignettes. In combination, they build a compelling mystery with well-rounded and emotive characters (both human and alien).The aliens are unable to easily manufacture the components required to fix their ship and return home...and with the help of a translating mechanism, the foreigners and country-folk find an uneasy peace in their co-habitation.The heart of Flynn's book is really about discovery and the very human and relatable interactions between these beings from very different worlds and different societies. The aliens aren't just different biologically (they look like giant grasshoppers) and technologically, but they exist with an imbued sense of community and innately bred need to live within a very structured societal existence.As the historian delves deeper into the mystery of the missing village, he discovers the myth and legend behind Eifelheim. And this is where the story shines. Flynn builds a wonderful world out of this middle-ages town and the odd circumstances of its disappearance. Father Dietrich develops the initial and most poignant relationships with the aliens who come to be known as the Krenken and over time takes full advantage to turn these beings into new parishioners.The Krenken are introduced to Christ as the "lord of the stars" whom the people expect to return soon to save humanity. The Krenken see in this man-above-men their own savior... an individual who may be able to rescue them from Earth and help them return home. Numerous times does Flynn write of the conflict between the figurative and literal that is often taken for granted. But when placed in a first contact context, these become all too obviously intrusive and confusing.The Krenken see a strong sense of individualism in the humans...something that doesn't exist amongst themselves. And over several months a few of the aliens "go native" and seek opportunities to further blend in with the Oberhochwald community.I fear exposing too much of this wonderful story that is best read by unwrapping each layer after satisfying layer. Flynn marvelously reveals the inner character of humans and aliens a
I'm not sure that I have much more to say about this tale of alien beings stranded in medieval Germany just before the arrival of the Black Death that hasn't been said by other reviewers. I will say that Flynn might have expanded the near future portions of the book in terms of character development, if only because I would have liked to seen the relationship between the cliometrician and the archivist teased out more. Flynn does get points in my book for making his core romantic relationship so matter of fact and, well, unromantically realistic.
I just finished reading Eifelheim by Micahel Flynn. This book is a captivating story. Firstly, it reveals life in 14th century Germany at the time of the Plague. The Christianity practiced in that time period was more inquisitive and distinct. It was also the time of invention and inquiry into the natural sciences. Within that earthy realm between philosopher and pastor, the story unfolds about stranded travelers from another place. Interpretations of faith, body, and spirit among philosophers and monks of the time present an opportunity to look at faith anew as well as life and death in the time of the Plague. This story is one that I will long remember, not from the novelty of the premise, but rather the ideas and questions it brings about in terms of ones own faith and reconciling that with life that is human in ability but not in nature.
Offers more promise than it delivers. Two parallel stories; one set in Medieval times featuring aliens, and another in the near future featuring a type of historian. The historical characters are far more lovingly drawn and believable than those in the near future - which is sad, because they could have been quite interesting. The past also has a more interesting plot than the future, but both could fairly be accused of "meandering". I wish that there'd been more of a focus. I enjoyed the mystery in the past, and the loving attention to period details. I was particularly fond of the complex, dimensioned relationship that the historical characters had to religion, faith and morality. Flynn has written better things, but this is worth a read.
Fairly good book, but nowhere as good as the original novella. Hard reading and a bit boring reading at times - far too much discussion about medieval theology and far too little about the aliens. Some small nitpicks - spacefaring (or at least dimensionfaring) aliens for whom seasons are a surprise?
Briefly: imagine that in the 14th century a little village in the depths of the Black Forest has an alien space ship crash nearby. The aliens look like giant grasshoppers. Naturally, many of the local peasants think they are demons. Others, however, especially the village priest who was educated in Paris, take into consideration what makes a creature "a man." In other words, what constitutes a soul and therefore makes it incumbent upon us to treat aliens as we would wish to be treated? Flynn does an excellent job of recreating the 14th century mindset so this is not simply a story told with modern sensibilities in a long ago setting. As well, there is a brief modern-day story investigating the village of Eifelheim that seemed fairly superfluous until the very end of the book. Likewise, a seemingly extraneous character, Judy, is the one that gives the long-dead villagers and aliens their final humanity. I immediately requested another of Michael Flynn's books from the library. This did take me a while to finish as it might be called "cerebral science fiction" but it is well worth it, especially to those who enjoy seeing Christianity treated with respect in such a setting.
Wow, what a book! This is a book that really gives you a lot to chew on.It has 2 main storylines, one taking place in the present and one in the past. In the present a historian is trying to figure out why a particular medieval village in the Black Forest was never resettled after the the plague. All of his models indicate it should have been, so he begins researching the village at its final year. His girifriend is a theoretical physicist, concerned with her own complex theories that revolve around the speed of light and the multi-dimensional universe.In the past, we learn of the last inhabitants of the village. They are minding their own business when aliens appear in the nearby forest. The village people, to varying degrees, interact with the aliens, learning from them, teaching them, befriending them, and in some cases, even converting them to Christianity.What results is a very complex story. The conversations between the priest and the aliens reveal medieval attitudes on religion, philosophy and science. Intertwine this with the descriptions of day to day medieval German village living, the humans and aliens meeting for the first time, and the modern time lines and description of science and you find every sentence is packed with nuance and meaning.In fact, it is so packed, that I need to read it again. I know I missed important bits and pieces. I know I picked up the book and read it when I was too tired or distracted to fully concentrate. This is a book that demands undivided attention.The tension in this novel comes from the fact that we know aliens land just a year before the village is deserted, and though we assume that the aliens have something to do with the villages abandonment and later taboo status, we don't know exactly what happens. It definitely kept me turning pages quickly. When we discover the full reason at the end, it almost seems like a bit of a let down as there is no big A-HAH moment. I wish it had tied up everything a little differently, but this is not a major criticism.
***I am not a professional reviewer; this is more for my notes... :) I don't think there are any spoilers, but I make no promises.***This was a very good book. I loved the handling of the Medieval thought with its interaction of modern scientific concepts of electricity, atoms, and space. Also, the significant discussions of religious beliefs and the translations that were made to transfer them to an alien race were very insightful. To be honest with you, I somewhat disliked having to pulled back to the current time, since it seemed like only a minor plot line, that could even be ignored.I was going to give the book a four, mostly for the intriguing discussion and what appeared to be great scholarship of Medieval times. However, the book was a tough read. Some books I am kept enthralled so I keep reading. This book was a challenge and at times I wanted to abandon, but my German ancestry makes me stubborn. :) It was slow for my tastes, but I think I was rewarded for following along.
Bit of a tough go, but worth wading through. A bit on the literary side, lots of over-my-head science, lots of references to obscure historical events of the Middle Ages, some unfamiliar words as well as phrases and sentences in Latin and German (not always translated). But a well told yarn, even with all that, about an alien spaceship crash landing in the Black Forest during the Middle Ages. Scenes shift between then (1348-1349) and now. In the now, a young couple - she a physicist and he a historian - stumble on the clues that reveal the incident from centuries before. Majority of the narrative takes place in the past and relates the reaction of the residents of a remote village to the discovery of the surviving aliens. The priest for the village, a major character, befriends the "travelers."
Two storylines thread through this novel, one set in the present, the other in 1348-1349. In the "now" storyline a historian comes to wonder why the site of the village of "Eifelheim" was never resettled after the Black Death depopulated the area, and so he starts to dig. The majority of the novel is spent in the doomed village during the last year of its life when its populace offered succor to a group of lost wayfarers, demonlike in their appearance, who arrived with a great fire in the nearby woods.This is a story of first contact, because the lost wayfarers are aliens. The village priest is a Parisian scholar, banished to the obscure village, familiar with the leading cosmological thinkers of his day: Buridan, Bacon, and Occam. This priest realizes that the aliens are not supernatural and is open enough to the rational thought of his own day to undertake to communicate with them and aid them. For the reader, and for the village's people, there is the ever-looming specter of the Plague to come. We know our friends are doomed.Flynn demands your attention and intelligence as he realizes the daily life of a 14th-century German village and calls upon us to understand the worldview of its inhabitants. In some ways we, the 21st century readers, have more in common with the aliens than with these medeival humans whose understanding of the universe is so different from our own. (The storyline in the present is relatively thin and gets a little irritating at times, just stick with it.) The book is beautifully written, extremely intelligent, and engaging, but it is not a light read. Read this when you are wide awake. (This is an expansion of a Hugo-nominee novella from over a dozen years ago, and that provided the basis for the "now" storyline.)
I've always thought that Michael Flynn has some of the best concepts in science fiction. I particularly liked the first half of In the Country of the Blind, but felt that although he had good ideas, he really didn't know where he was going with them. In Eifelheim I kept holding my breath. Would he find a satisfactory conclusion or would this fascinating twin tale of physics, first contact, and twelfth century philosophy and culture simply whimper to a close?I am pleased to report that this mix of high physics and deep history does make sense. The historian delves into the history of an abandoned German village while his roommate investigates the possibilities of an abandoned Variable Light Speed Theory of Everything. In a parallel tale of the historian's village, a well educated village priest discovers and befriends a group of aliens who have used the physics investigated by the twenty-first century physicist to project themselves, unfortunately, into our twelfth century world.Now my problem is choosing how to vote for the competing Hugo nominated novels. I am still very fond of Glasshouse by Charles Stross, but I am glad to have found this novel as well.
A marvellous story beautifully told. Reminds me of Dinesen's "Sorrow-Acre."