Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Review: Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

What's worse--the Black Plague is looming over your small village hamlet or hideous aliens are stranded in the woods just outside of your small village hamlet? The poor 14th century village of Oberhochwald is gored by both horns of this dilemma in Eifelheim, the Hugo-nominated novel by Michael Flynn.

Father Dietrich is Oberhochwald's pastor and the first to discover the alien's landing site. They appear like giant grasshoppers and horses won't go near them. Despite their strangeness, he is able to recognize the intelligence of the aliens and that they are injured. He enlists the aid of various people in town, including the local lord, Manfred von Hochwald. As more people find out about the Krenken (what they call the aliens), more is discovered about the aliens. Can they be kept secret from outsiders? Can the medieval society provide what the aliens need to repair their ship and go home? If the plague comes, will it wipe out human and Krenken alike?

The medieval story is interwoven with a contemporary account of historian Tom, who is investigating why the medieval town of Eifelheim was abandoned and never resettled. His live-in girlfriend Sharon is a theoretical physicist and their relationship provides some nice sciency discussions that aren't too hard to follow. Naturally, Tom's pursuit is a bit of a spoiler about what happens to Oberhochwald (which is eventually renamed Eifelheim in historical records), but it creates some suspense. It might have been better as one complete story at the end rather than interspersed among the main story.

One of the great things about the book is how well researched and believable it is. Lots of historic fiction seems to get its picture of the medieval world from the old Hercules and Xena TV series (which is wrong in so many ways); it's nice to read a depiction of the society that is much more authentic. Father Dietrich had studied in Paris under some famous philosophers and he has many philosophical, theological, and scientific discussions with both humans and Krenken. He writes to his bishop to find out if rational yet non-human animals could be converted and baptized. He is coy and hypothetical in his request but it has practical motivation--some of the Krenken show interest in the Christian faith. He is also curious about the Krenken equipment and space ship, often inventing words from Greek to describe their devices, e.g. the Krenken take images of things with their fotographia.

This book is a great read and I highly recommend it!

For more interesting commentary, listen to episode seven of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, which I have finally listened to.

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