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Eifelheim
Michael Flynn
Tor, 320 pages

Eifelheim
Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn began writing science fiction in 1984, rapidly becoming a mainstay of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. His stories have also appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Weird Tales. Author of eight novels and two story collections, Flynn is best known for the four book Firestar series and the critically praised The Wreck of the River of Stars. Flynn holds a master's degree in mathematics. He lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Margie. He has two grown children and three grandchildren.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Wreck of the River of Stars
SF Site Review: Rogue Star

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kit O'Connell

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Two stories are interwoven in Michael Flynn's brilliant novel Eifelheim. In one, Tom Schwoerin, a "cliologist" from the near future (a time referred to simply as 'Now' in the book), searches through history for traces of the lost German city of the title. The other takes place in Eifelheim itself, then known as Oberhochwald, where we follow Pastor Dietrich as he struggles to understand the town's strange alien visitors.

Tom's story was originally published as stand-alone short fiction in Analog Science Fiction and Fact back in 1986. Though this framing story has a lot going for it, particularly the well-executed concept of cliology (a mathematical, predictive discipline similar to Isaac Asimov's Psychohistory), it is hard to imagine the original version being nearly as effective. While Tom and his mathematician partner Sharon have an entertainingly realistic relationship, the hints of illicit romance between the cliologist and Judy Cao, his research assistant, feel forced and perfunctory. Narration is provided by a fourth character in what feels like a particularly awkward and extraneous device.

The real reason that the chapters set in the modern era seem the weaker half of the story lies not in any fault they contain, but simply that Pastor Dietrich's life is so much more engaging. Flynn's medieval town is incredibly well researched; the reader is immersed in the day to day lives of its inhabitants in a way that is more real than almost any other novel I can recall. So vibrant is Flynn's 'dark ages' that modern times pale in comparison. We already know what it is like to live now, but with Pastor Dietrich we learn intimately how everything in his village connects -- from the dependence of the lord on his villagers to the need for the charcoal produced in the forest to power the smith's forge in town.

Early in the book we are told, via archival documents that Judy discovers, that the village is doomed to die of the plague and all the aliens of starvation. Freed of wondering at the outcome, the reader becomes an intimate observer in how they spend their last days; their preordained fates become a metaphor for the mortality of all sentient life. Dietrich's struggles feel very real as he tries to accommodate his religion and his science, the provincial world he lives in with the interstellar visions of the visitors from the stars, the Krenken. The Krenken too, are faced with despair at their isolation and revulsion at the strange ways of humankind; they seek solace in power struggle, religion and the human world. An especially moving moment comes when the aliens clumsily join in the dancing at a festival. "Because we die, we laugh and leap," comments the Krenken known as Hans.

Pastor Dietrich is a source of another of the books' rare and minor flaws. Dietrich's background as a man of science and the contrast between his inquisitive nature amongst the overall duller minds of his countrymen seems very realistic. What doesn't ring so true is his inventiveness in creating scientific terms. When presented with the concept of a single unit of information, he immediately calls it the German word for bit. He will go on to coin a modern term for a futuristic scientific concept multiple times; Flynn may have intended this to be humorous but instead it strains credulity in an otherwise realistic story.

Actually, the worst thing about this book is the packaging of the 2007 trade paperback. Although mostly covered in typically lacklustre jacket copy, I winced on behalf of the author when I read this phrase on the front cover: Eifelheim: The Hugo Award Finalist Novel. Couldn't Tor find a better way of saying this, perhaps on the cover of every other 'Hugo-nominated novel?'

Michael Flynn's Eifelheim is a moving reflection on death, religion, and history. It expanded my appreciation for both the author and the richness of medieval life, and the memory of the Krenken stayed with me long after the last page. It is a book I not only recommend, but anticipate rereading in the future to discover more of its depth. I hope you find it as rewarding to read as I did.

Copyright © 2008 Kit O'Connell

Kit O'Connell
Kit O'Connell is a writer and bookseller and Voluptuary living in College Station, Texas. His poetry will appear in Aberrant Dreams in 2008. He can be found online at approximately 8,000 words, his homepage, and Words Words Words, the Dream Café weblog.


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