5. Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn

24 Feb

I am on a roll with the good books this year. I’ve owned Eifelheim for a few years, tried to read it twice and given up both times in discouragement at the first chapter, which portrays a medieval German priest experiencing a strange weather event that feels like an electrical storm or the planet being hit by a comet–but will turn out to be an alien spaceship landing in his village.

Wait, wait, it’s not silly.

The priest is a scholar and a Christian, and what follows is an amazing thought experiment of how such a person and society might have realistically coped with aliens. As a Christian, it is Father Dietrich’s opinion that these strange (and wounded and frightened) travelers should be offered charity. As a man of science, he’s curious to figure them out. As a practical matter, he needs to explain philosophy, theology and the natural world to them…so they can repair their spaceship, of course! It’s fascinating to read how a medieval scientist would tackle such matters–the aliens must be choleric because their blood is yellow, and so on–the the research and knowledge the author displays is staggering.

The reason it took me a while to get into the book is that there’s a lot of medieval and German terminology used au natural, a mix of languages thrown in, and a basic assumption of knowledge of Medieval history and politics. The narrative POV is very close to the priest’s, so if he’s worrying about some matters of papal succession, you’re reading what he’s thinking despite yourself being unfamiliar with papal dramas of the mid 1300s. If you are, like I am, unfamiliar with such things, that is. The verisimilitude is awesomely detailed and brilliantly executed, but it’s not always an easy read. And there are certain sections with a bit too much political history crammed into the dialog. I also never could figure out who any but the most obvious supporting characters were. There’s a huge cast of villagers and aliens, all with nicknames and titles and it was tough going.

I’m glossing over the fact that there medieval story is punctuated by modern day chapters about a physicist and a cliologist (?) population-study academic. She’s researching time travel and he’s researching a medieval village that disappeared in the mid 1300s…. and we know that it’s all going to come together with a big bang. The physics were, I am sad to say, way too hard-sci-fi for me and I couldn’t make heads nor tails of them and started skipping those parts. I have the hazy intention to Google Janatpour Space and find out if it’s even a real thing, but now that I’ve finished the book….

Also, I’m now participating in a 52 books challenge (on the crazy theory I’m going to catch up). Linking to it here.

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