It is a time of wonders, in the shadow of the plague
“Carl Sagan meets Umberto Eco. . . .Bursting with pungent historical detail and Big Theme musings, this dense, provocative novel offers big rewards to patient readers.” Entertainment Weekly
“Heartbreaking . . . .Flynn masterfully achieves an intricate panorama of medieval life, full of fascinatingly realized human and Krenken characters whose fates interconnect with poignant irony.” Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Meticulously researched, intense, mesmerizing novel . . . for readers seeking thoughtful science fiction of the highest order.” Kirkus, starred review
“Wonderful, mesmerizing. A finely-written and deeply considered SF novel that deserves to stand with the classics in the field.” Robert Charles Wilson, award-winning author of Spin
“Eifelheim may turn out to be the best science fiction novel this year.” Stanley Schmidt
“Eifelheim is one of those very occasional novels that you know early on you will never forget. A powerhouse.” Jack McDevitt
“With a sure grasp of both speculative science and medieval history, Flynn compellingly weaves past and present together in a dialog of faith and science. With neat turns of plot and intriguing medieval and modern characters, this book, parts of which were previously published as a novella, belongs in even small libraries. Highly recommended.” Library Journal, starred review
“Michael Flynn's Eifelheim is a gripping multi-layered masterpiece, which pulls off the extraordinary feat of imagining a convincing first contact with aliens that might have taken place in 1348, and adds an equally convincing account of the manner in which the event might be rediscovered by a 21st-century historian. The intricate detective story is supplemented by a heartfelt moral commentary on the manner in which the contact was negotiated and the crucial significance it retains, in spite of having been forgotten for nearly 700 years.” Brian Stableford
“Eifelheim is a truly impressive and enjoyable novel.” Stanley Schmidt
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Read an Excerpt
During summer sessions, Sharon and Tom both did their research from home. That is easy enough today, when the world lies literally at our very fingertips; but it can be a trap, too, for what we need may lie just beyond the tips of our fingers. There is Tom hunched over the computer by the window, tracking down obscure references over the Net. He has his back to the room, which means to Sharon.
Sharon lounges on the pillow sofa on the other side of the room, notebook open, surrounded by wadded-up balls of paper and half-finished cups of herbal tea, thinking about whatever it is that theoretical physicists think about. She gazes in Tom’s direction, but she is looking on some inner vision, so in a way she too has her back turned. Sharon uses a computer, too, but it’s an organic one that she keeps between her ears. It may not be networked to the wider world, but Sharon Nagy creates her own worlds, strange and inaccessible, among which lies one at the very edges of cosmology.
It is not a beautiful thing, this world of hers. The geodesics are warped and twisted things. Space and time spiral off in curious, fractal vortices, in directions that have no name. Dimensions are quicksilver slippy—looked at sideways, they would vanish.
And yet . . .
And yet, she sensed a pattern lurking beneath the chaos and she stalked it as a cat might—in stealthy half-steps and never quite straightforward. Perhaps it lacked only the right beholding to fall into beauty. Consider Quasimodo, or Beauty’s Beast.
An alien voice intruded into her world. She heard Tom smack his PC terminal and she screwed her eyes shut, trying not to listen. Almost, she could see it clearly. The equations hinted at multiple rotation groups connected by a meta-algebra. But . . .
“Durák! Bünözö! Jáki!”
. . . But the world shattered into a kaleidoscope, and for a moment she sat overwhelmed by a sense of infinite loss. She threw her pen at the coffee table, where it clattered against white bone-china teacups. Evidently God did not intend for her to solve the geometry of Janatpour space quite yet. She glared at Tom, who muttered over his keyboard.
There is something true about Sharon Nagy in that one half-missed detail: that she uses a pen and not a pencil. It betokens a sort of hubris.
“All right,” she demanded. “What is it? You’ve been cursing in tongues all day. Something is bugging you. I can’t work; and that’s bugging me.”
Tom spun in his swivel chair and faced her. “Clio won’t give me the right answer!”
She made a pout with her lips. “Well, I hope you were able to beat it out of her.”
He opened his mouth and closed it again and had the grace to look embarrassed, because there was something true about him also. If there are two sorts of people in the world, Tom Schwoerin is of the other sort. Few thoughts of his failed to reach his lips. He was an audible sort of man, which means that he was fundamentally sound.
He scowled now and crossed his arms. “I’m frustrated, is all.”
Small doubt of that. Sharon regarded his verbal popcorn much as a miser does a spendthrift. She was the sort of person for whom the expression, That goes without saying, really does induce silence. In any event, Tom’s frustration was only a symptom. “Why are you frustrated?”
“Eifelheim won’t go away!”
“And why should it go away?”
He threw his arms out wildly. “Because it’s not there!”
Sharon, who had had another why ready in wait, massaged the bridge of her nose. Be patient, and eventually he would make sense.
“Okay, okay,” he admitted. “It sounds silly; but . . . look, Eifelheim was a village in the Black Forest that was abandoned and never resettled.”
“So, it should have been. I’ve run two-score simulations of the Schwarzwald settlement grid and the site gets resettled every time.”
She had no patience for his problems. An historian, Tom did not create worlds, he only discovered them; so he really was that other sort of person. Sharon yearned for her geodesics. They had almost made sense. Tom wasn’t even close. “A simulation?” she snapped. “Then change the freaking model. You’ve got multicollinearity in the terms, or something.”
Emotion, especially deep emotion, always caught Tom short. His own were brief squalls. Sharon could erupt like a volcano. Half the time, he could not figure out why she was angry with him; and the other half of the time he was wrong. He goggled at her for a moment before rolling his eyes. “Sure. Throw out Rosen-Zipf-Christaller theory. One of the cornerstones of cliology!”
“Why not?” she said, “In the real sciences, theory has to fit the facts; not vice versa.”
Tom’s face went red, for she had touched (as she had known she would) upon one of his hot buttons. “Does it, a cuisla? Does it really? Wasn’t it Dirac who said that it was more important that the equations be beautiful than that they fit the experiment? I read somewhere that measurements of light speed have been getting lower over the years. Why not throw out the theory that light speed is constant?”
She frowned. “Don’t be silly.” She had her own hot buttons. Tom did not know what they were, but he managed to hit them all the same.
“Silly, hell!” He slammed his hand down sharply on the terminal and she jumped a little. Then he turned his back and faced the screen once more. Silence fell, continuing the quarrel.
Now, Sharon had that peculiar ability to stand outside herself, which is a valuable skill, so long as one comes back inside now and then. They were both being silly. She was angry at having her train of thought derailed, and Tom was angry because some simulation of his wouldn’t work out. She glanced at her own work and thought, I’m not helping me by not helping him, which might be a poor reason for charity, but it beats having none at all.
They spoke in counterpoint. She looked up, and he turned ’round, and they stared at each other for a moment and ratified a tacit armistice. The geodesic to peace and quiet was to hear him out; so Sharon crossed the room and perched on the corner of his desk.
“All right,” she said. “Explain. What’s this Zip-whatever theory?”
In answer, he turned to his keyboard, entered commands with the flourish of a pianist, and rolled his chair aside for her. “Tell me what you see.”
Sharon sighed a little and stood behind him with her arms folded and her head cocked. The screen displayed a grid of hexagons, each containing a single dot. Some dots were brighter than others. “A honeycomb,” she told him. “A honeycomb with fireflies.”
Tom grunted. “And they say physicists make lousy poets. Notice anything?”
She read the names beside the dots. Omaha. Des Moines. Ottumwa . . . “The brighter the dot, the bigger the city. Right?”
“Vice versa, actually; but, right. What else?”
Why couldn’t he just tell her? He had to make it a guessing game. His students, waiting beak-open for his lectures, often felt the same disquiet. Sharon concentrated on the screen, seeking the obvious. She did not regard cliology as an especially deep science, or much of a science at all. “Okay. The big cities form a partial ring. Around Chicago.”
Tom grinned. “Ganz bestimmt, Schatz. There should be six of them, but Lake Michigan gets in the way, so the ring’s incomplete. Now, what surrounds each of the big cities?”
“A ring of not-so-big cities. How fractal! But the pattern isn’t perfect . . .”
“Life’s not perfect,” he answered. “Microgeography and boundary conditions distort the pattern, but I correct for that by transforming the coordinates to an equivalent, infinite plain.”
“A manifold. Cute,” she said. “What’s your transformation?”
“Effective distance is a function of the time and energy needed to travel between two points. Non-Abelian, which complicates matters.”
“Non-Abelian? But then—.”
“B can be farther from A than A is from B. Sure, why not? The Portuguese found it easier to sail down the coast of Africa than to sail back up. Or, take our own dry cleaners? The streets are one-way, so it takes three times longer to drive there than it does to drive back.”
But Sharon wasn’t listening any longer. Non-Abelian! Of course, of course! How could I have been so stupid? Oh, the happy, unquestioning life of an Abelian, Euclidean, Hausdorff peasant! Could Janatpour space be nonisotropic? Could distance in one direction differ from distance in another? It’s always faster coming home. But how? How?
His voice shattered her reverie once more. “. . . oxcarts or automobiles. So, the map is always in transition from one equilibrium to another. Now watch.”
If she didn’t hold his hand while he complained, she would never get her own work done. “Watch what?” she asked, perhaps in a harsher voice than she had intended, because he cast her a wounded glance before bending again over the keyboard. While he did, she slipped across the room and retrieved her notebook so she could capture her butterfly thought.
“Christaller’s original survey,” said Tom, who had not noticed her sortie. “Land Württemberg, nineteenth century.”
Sharon spared the screen a cursory glance. “All right—” Then, almost against her will, she leaned toward the computer. “Another honeycomb,” she said. “Is that a common pattern?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he showed her a series of maps. Johnson’s study of Late Uruk settlements around Warka. Alden’s reconstruction of Toltec polities in the Valley of Mexico. Skinner’s analysis of Szechuan villages. Smith’s anomalous study of western Guatemala that found two grids, Indio and Ladino, superimposed on each other like parallel universes.
“Now check out this map. Verified sites of ancient Sumerian and Elamite pueblos.”
To her own annoyance, she found herself intrigued. One such map might be an oddity; two or three, a coincidence; but not this many. “Why is that dot red?” she asked.
Tom regarded the screen with indulgence. “My claim to fame. There was no known pueblo at that site. But ancient writings are full of references to places we’ve never pinned down. So, I sent old Hotchkiss an e-mail, telling him to move his dig. That made him mad—he’s an old-school microhistorian. But what really ticked him off was when he finally found the ruins, two years later, right where I’d told him they would be.”
So his patterns had predictive value, too. Patterns were interesting. They could lead, like astrology, to real science. “There has to be a cause,” she said.
He gave her a satisfied nod. “Ochen khoroshó.”
“Okay, I’ll bite. What is it?”
He tapped a fingernail against the display. “Each locus provides some degree of biopsychological reinforcement to its inhabitants. Rich bottomlands, a vein of silver, a plentiful supply of guano, anything. Andere Länder, andere Sitten. The intensity of that reinforcement defines a potential function over the landscape, and the gradient of that potential is a force we call affinity.”
Sharon withheld comment. She had never considered Tom’s “forces of history” as anything more than a metaphor. She was a physicist, and physicists dealt in real forces.
“If affinity were the only force,” Tom continued, “the entire population would be sucked into the local maximum. But population density itself creates a second potential because, cæteris paribus, people prefer wide open spaces to getting someone’s elbow in their ear. So there’s a countertendency for the population to spread out evenly across the landscape in a kind of cultural heat death. The interaction between these two forces generates the differential equations for a reaction-diffusion process. Population accumulates at the equilibrium sites, with settlement sizes distributed according to Zipf’s rank-size law. Each settlement generates a cultural potential field whose strength is proportional to its wealth and population and which diminishes with the square of the distance. Geographically, these settlements and their hinterlands form hexagonal patterns called Christaller grids. Ert, Nagy kisasszony?”
“Ertek jol, Schwoerin ur,” she answered. Sharon wasn’t entirely convinced, but if she argued the point, they’d be up all night, settle nothing, and she’d never get back to Janatpour space. Besides, the model did account for that remarkable consistency of settlement patterns. She pursed her lips. If she wasn’t careful, she’d get sucked into solving his problem instead of her own. “So, where does this Eifelheim of yours fit in?”
Tom flipped his hands up. “It doesn’t.” He called another map onto the screen. “Here’s the Black Forest. Notice anything odd?”
After all those maps, the empty cell fairly jumped out at her. Sharon touched the screen, her finger dancing from village to village. Bärental, Oberreid, Hinterzarten, St. Wilhelm . . . The roads all twisted around the blank spot, some doubling back on themselves to avoid it. She frowned. Tom was right. There should be a village there.
“That,” he announced sourly, “is Eifelheim.”
“The little town that wasn’t there,” she murmured. “But how can a town that isn’t there have a name?”
“The same way that the Elamite pueblo had a name. Enough references in various sources to triangulate its location. Attendez.” Another command entered. “The same region in the Early Middle Ages, reconstructed from landsat photos.” He cocked his head. “C’est drôle, ma chérie. Up close, you wouldn’t see a damned thing; yet from miles above, the ghosts of vanished villages stand out clearly.” He looked at the screen and pointed. “There’s Eifelheim.”
The little dot stared back at her from the previously empty hex. “Then I don’t get it. You’ve discovered another ‘lost city,’ like in Sumeria.”
But Tom shook his head. “No,” he said sadly, gazing at the screen. “Settlements are abandoned because their affinity drops, or technology changes the effective distances. The silver mines play out, or an interstate runs through. That’s not the case here. Affinity should have caused a successor-village to coalesce within a generation somewhere inside that hex. Look at the way Baghdad followed Seleucia, Babylon, and Akkad in the same hex in Mesopotamia.”
“Do your satellite photos tell when this Eifelheim disappeared?”
“Based on the pattern of stripping—the ‘furlongs’—I’d guess the Late Middle Ages, probably during the Black Death. Land usage patterns changed after that.”
“Weren’t a lot of places depopulated then? I read somewhere that a third of Europe died.” She actually thought she had explained something. She actually thought she had seen something that Tom had overlooked. No field of knowledge is so transparently simple as another’s.
Tom was deaf to her triumph. “Yeah,” he said off-handedly, “and the Middle East, too. Ibn Khaldûn wrote . . . Well, it took two hundred years for the population to rebound to medieval levels, but every other abandoned village was eventually either reoccupied or replaced by a new settlement nearby. Você accredita agora? People lived there for over four hundred years, and then—no one ever lived there again.”
She shivered. The way he said it, it did sound unnatural.
“The place became tabu,” he continued. “In 1702, Marshal Villars refused to march his army past the place to join his Bavarian allies.” Tom opened a slim manila folder on his desk and read from a sheet of paper. “This is what he wrote to the Elector: ‘Cette vallée de Neustadt que vous me proposez. C’est le chemin qu’on appelle le Val d’Enfer. Que votre Altesse me pardonne l’expression; je ne suis pas diable pour y passer.’ This was the route he rejected, up the Höllenthal—Hell Valley.” His finger traced a path on the map screen, running northeast from Falkenstein past Eifelheim, below the Feldberg. “There wasn’t even a road through that tanglewood until the Austrians built one in 1770—so Marie Antoinette could travel to France in comfort, which also turned out to be a bad idea. Even after the road was put in, it was a bad place to travel through. Moreau’s Retreat down the valley was such a feat that, when he finally reached the lower end, he was nearly hailed a victor. Then here . . .” He rummaged again in his folder. “. . . I have a copy of a letter by an English traveler named Hughes, who writes in 1900: ‘I pressed on to Himmelreich, lest darkness catch me on the malign ground of Eifelheim.’ He’s being a little tongue-in-cheek—a snooty Edwardian Englishman winking at ‘quaint’ German folktales—but you notice he didn’t stay the night. And Anton Zaengle—you remember Anton—he sent me a newspaper clipping that . . . Here, read it yourself.” He handed her the manila folder. “Go ahead. It’s right on top.”
If a cosmologist learned anything, it was that the shortest route was not always a straight line. Opening the folder, Sharon found a clipping from the Freiburger Wochenbericht with an English translation stapled to it.
Dracula Cult Finds New Grave
(Freiburg i/ Br.) Although officials discount it as superstition, some US soldiers on maneuvers here believe they have found the tomb of Count Dracula, hundreds of miles from Transylvania. A spokesperson for the US Third Infantry Division acknowledged that something between a cult and a fad had emerged among the soldiers over an obscure medieval headstone decorated with the carving of a demonic face.
The grave lies in a region of the Black Forest called Eifelheim.
The region is heavily forested and the soldiers refuse to divulge the precise location, claiming that curious tourists would offend the grave’s inhabitant. This suits nearby farmers, who have a superstitious dread of the place.
Monsignor Heinrich Lurm, a spokesman for the Diocese of Freiburg-im-Breisgau, is concerned about possible desecration of the cemetery by curiosity-seekers, even though it is centuries old. “I suppose you can’t stop these young fellows from believing what they want,” he said. “Facts are much less exciting than fables.”
The monsignor also downplayed the possible connection between the carving the soldiers have described and local folktales of flying monsters, called the Krenkl. “After a few hundred years of wind and rain,” he said, “my own face would not look so good, either. If modern American soldiers can make up stories about a carving, so can medieval German peasants.”
Sharon returned the clipping. “There’s your answer. Krenkl. They’ve got their own version of the Jersey Devil flying around.”
He gave her a look of pity. “Sharon, this is the Black Forest. There are more demons, ghosts, and witches per square mile than anywhere on the face of the earth. These ‘Flying Krenkl of Eifelheim’ sit on the shelf next to the ‘Feldberg Demon’ and the ‘Devil’s Pulpit’ and the witches’ covens on the Kandel and Tannhäusser’s secret cave and all the rest. No, Schatzi. History happens because of material forces, not mystic beliefs. The abandonment caused the stories, not the other way around. People don’t wake up one morning and suddenly decide that the place they’ve lived in for four centuries is suddenly verboten. Das ist Unsinn.”
“Well . . . The Black Death . . .”
Tom shrugged. “But the Death was a ‘common cause.’ It affected all the villages. Whatever the answer is, it has to explain not only why Eifelheim was abandoned forever, but why only Eifelheim was abandoned forever.” He rubbed his eyes. “Trouble is, there’s no data. Nada. Nichts. Nichto. Nincs. A few secondary sources, nothing at all contemporary to the events. The earliest reference I found was a theological treatise on meditation, written three generations later. That’s it there.” He jabbed a finger at the folder.
Sharon saw a scanned image of a Latin manuscript. Most of the page was occupied by an ornate capital D supported by a trellis of vines twisted into a complex pattern that broke out here and there into leaves and berries, odd triangles and other geometric figures. A vague feeling of déjà vu stole over her as she studied it. “Not very pretty,” she said.
“Positively ugly,” said Tom. “And the contents are worse. It’s called ‘The Attainment of the Other World by Searching Within.’ Gottes Himmel, I’m not kidding. Mystical drivel about a ‘trinity of trinities’ and how God can be in all places at all times ‘including times and places we cannot know save by looking inside ourselves.’ But . . . !” Tom held his index finger up. “The author credits the ideas to—and I quote—‘old mason Seybke, whose father knew personally the last pastor at the place we call Eifelheim.’ Unquote.” He crossed his arms. “How’s that for firsthand data?”
“What a curious way to phrase it: ‘the place we call Eifelheim’.” Sharon thought Tom was bragging as much as complaining, as if he had come to love the brick wall against which he was butting his head. Fair enough. Both were made of similar material. She was reminded of her mother’s endless litanies of medical complaints. Not that her mother had enjoyed being sick, but she had taken not a little pride in the insurmountable nature of her illnesses.
Sharon flipped idly through the printouts, wondering if there were some way to get Tom out of the apartment. He was spinning his wheels and making her life miserable. She handed him back the folder. “You need more data.”
“Bozhe moi. Sharon. Ya nye durák! Tell me something I don’t know! I’ve looked and I’ve looked. Clio’s chased down every reference to Eifelheim in the entire Net.”
“Well, not everything’s in the Net,” she snapped back. “Aren’t there musty old papers in archives and the back rooms of libraries that no one’s ever read, let alone scanned? I thought that’s what you historians used to do before you got computers—root around in dusty shelves, blowing off cobwebs.”
“Well . . . ,” he said doubtfully. “Anything off-line can be scanned in by request . . .”
“That’s if you know the document exists. What about uncatalogued stuff?”
Tom pursed his lips and looked at her. He nodded slowly. “There were a few marginal items,” he admitted. “They didn’t sound too promising at the time; but now . . . Well, like they say: Cantabit vaceus coram latrone viator.” He grinned at her. “A penniless man sings before the robber,” he explained. “Like me, what can he lose?” He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling, pulling absently on his lower lip. Sharon smiled to herself. She knew that habit. Tom was okay, but he was like an old motorcycle. You had to kick hard to get him started.
Later, after Tom had gone to the library, Sharon noticed Clio’s screen still lit and sighed in exasperation. Why did Tom always go off and leave things running? Computers, electric lights, stereos, televisions. He left a trail of perking appliances behind him wherever he went.
She crossed the room to turn his PC off, but paused with her finger over the track pad while she stared at the empty cell. Eifelheim . . . A sinister black hole surrounded by a constellation of living villages. Something horrible must have happened there once. Something so wicked that seven centuries later people shunned it and had forgotten why.
Abruptly, she cleared the machine. Don’t be silly, she told herself. But that made her think of something Tom had said. And that made her wonder, What if ? And nothing was ever the same again.
Copyright © 2006 by Michael F. Flynn
Meet the Author
MICHAEL FLYNN lives in Easton, Pennsylvania. He is the winner of the Robert A. Heinlein award, and a Hugo Nominee for Eifelheim.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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"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
I thoroughly enjoyed all the 14th century scenes and plot. I didn't care for the 'now' (i.e. present day) interludes. The peasants, priests, lords and aliens proved more believable than a modern day female quantum physicist cohabitating with a male cliologist (described as a 'big picture' statistical history theorist or something along those lines). A very good first contact story juxtaposed with historical fiction set during some of the darkest days endured by Europeans. For the rest of my review, please visit: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/93603980
I enjoyed the story very much because of the historical setting and the details the author brought out about life in the Middle Ages. I did find his use of foreign phrases distracting.
The premise is interesting, but the execution is excruciating. The two "modern" characters are highly uninteresting. If you are into medieval holidays this is the book for you. Otherwise stay away. You will find yourself checking your watch.
Very interesting idea and well-written, but not the sort of thing you just can't put down. It has two plot lines, one current and one middle ages. The historical depiction of a middle age town seems well-researched and is fascinating. The book presents a wonderful contrast between the cultural, philosophic and religious viewpoints of three groups: the learned priest in the middle age village, the aliens, and our own modern thinking. In some ways I found our ancestors more alien than the aliens, which I believe was the author's intention. A good science fiction book needs to make me think about the ideas for several days, and this one succeeded in that. But it only drew me intellectually, as I could not get fully interested in the characters. Overall, however, worth reading.
It was hard to read this book at first, but after a while I got used to the writing. Almost like having to get comfortable with an accent. If I had gone to bed 10 minutes earlier the night I decided to leap ahead 40 pages I might not have got caught up in it. But I am glad I did because it was a fun read. The sci-fi won't blow you away but reading about Dietrich, the Krenken and their interaction with the town is certainly out of the ordinary, which was a nice change of pace. It even gave me a few new perspective-thoughts in the cultural - religious - scientific realm to mull over.
Flynn is at his best conveying the mindset of the High Middle Ages: Feudal/Manorial life, Scholastic philosophy, and social unrest. The sci-fi elements set in the present are less involving and seem at times almost to intrude. Overall, however, it is a beautifully written, moving story.
The basic concept and plot was great but I can't help but think the novella was probably a better story, for being shorter and hopefully more focused. There was just so much going on here historically and politically that never really tied in to the theme or plot completely and seemed to be there just to flesh out the setting which it did moderately well. Where it fails is in making history about the people instead of the events. The only complete character is Dietrich, which is the novel's saving grace. His attempts to grasp science, which is now generally understood, without the foundations necessary to make the leap was truly fascinating. His conversations with Hans and Joachim are the best parts of the plot. The two contemporary characters were mere shadows of complete people, which would have been acceptable in a shorter novel but in a story of this length and complexity I would have expected them to be more than mere devices to tie to wrap up the plot. This novel got my brain interested but never got me emotionally involved. The plague never quite came across as a tragedy of life lost, just a historical event.
Historian Tom Schwoerin learns that during the height of the plague sweeping across central Europe in 1349, Eifelheim became a ghost town. Tom could find no apparent reason why the town was never resettled once the worst was over. He enlists his significant other physicist Sharon Nagy to help him investigate what happened to the German Black Forest village Eifelheim. Tom studies strange stained-glass windows with giant grasshopper pictures on them while Sharon struggles with a medieval manuscript that shows what looks like a circuit. --- In 1348, a spaceship crashed in the Black Forest. The intergalactic travelers the Krenken, grasshopper-looking aliens, survived due to the efforts of local Pastor Father Dietrich. He makes friends with the Krenken and converts them to Christianity eventually baptizing them even while trying to help them find a means to return home. While the villagers follow the lead of their pastor that the outsiders are God fearing beings and not demons others nearby assume evil has moved in Eifelheim and God¿s wrath brought the plague and killed the aliens who died from a diet insufficiency as no food contained a key amino acid they needed to break down the nutrients. --- This excellent science fiction thriller combines a delightful subplot of aliens visiting Germany during the Black Plague and a wonderful modern day ¿historical¿ mystery. Fans will appreciate both eras as Tom and Sharon struggle with evidence that makes no sense unless you were there. Michael Flynn provides one of the year¿s most intelligent entertaining tales with this superb winner. --- Harriet Klausner