[LMB] Michael Flynn's Eifelheim OT:

Nicholas Rosen ndrosen at erols.com
Sun Feb 18 23:00:49 GMT 2007

There aren't too many authors whose books I would order 
in hardback sight unseen, but Michael Flynn is one of them.

I ordered and read Michael Flynn's novel _Eifelheim_, a 
cheery story of cannibalism and the Black Death.  (Really.) 
The original story was published in Analog some twenty years 
ago, about how a historian and his POSSLQ, a physicist, figure
out what happened in a medieval German village to get it 
abandoned and shunned.

The novel is a longer versions, portraying the events in 
Eifelheim (as the village will later come to be known) as they
happen, interspersed with the scientific/historical research 
centuries later.  There's a forest fire, some weird electrical 
phenomena, and Pastor Dietrich, together with some other 
locals, finds a spaceship in the woods (if "spaceship" is quite
the right word; it travels through folded space, through extra
dimensions, rather than by firing a rcoket engine in the black 
void).  Dietrich is able to establish some communication with
the insect-like visitors, and matters proceed. 

Dietrich is a well-educated man, by the standards of his time,
and a sincere and humane priest.  Still, he doesn't know what
Galilieo and Kepler and Newton and Einstein have not yet 
discovered, so he can't fully understand some of what the 
aliens tell him, and they sometimes misunderstand what he 
tells them.  He is concerned with whether they have souls 
which can be saved, and some of them give him reason to 
think that they do. Other locals think these strange creatures 
must be demons. Flynn has done his homework about the 
Middle Ages -- the climate of thought was not what someone 
with a vague picture of a superstitious past before the 
Renaissance brought some enlightnement might assume -- 
and given the premise, the story is largely believable, so far 
as I can tell.

Earthly food lacks an amino acid the aliens need, so they 
have to choose between staying, which will kill them, and 
trying to head home in a damaged ship repaired with hand-
drawn, uninsulated copper wire made by medieval craftsmen, 
which may well kill them. Meanwhile, this is the middle of the
14th century, so the Black Death is sweeping across Europe.  
Is there hope in Christ? Is there, as one of the pagan visitors 
puts it, no _caritas_, but only courage and honor? The book is,
despite everything, cheering in how people -- of different 
species -- bravely face their fates in their different ways.

Read it.

Nicholas Rosen

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