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Eifelheim

by Michael Flynn

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,0146316,859 (3.74)103
In 1349, one small town in Germany disappeared and was never resettled. Tom, a contemporary historian, and his theoretical physicist girlfriend, Sharon, become interested. By all logic, the town should have survived, but it didn't. Why? What was special about Eifelheim that it utterly disappeared more than 600 years ago? In 1348, as the Black Death is gathering strength across Europe, Father Deitrich is the priest of the village that will come to be known as Eifelheim. A man educated in science and philosophy, he is astonished to become the first contact between humanity and an alien race from a distant star when their interstellar ship crashes in the nearby forest.… (more)
  1. 160
    Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (Ape)
    Ape: Far from identical stories, but both are sci-fi takes on the black death (Eifelheim: Aliens, Doomsday Book: Time Travel.) There are numerous similarities, and I think if you like one the other might be worth looking into.
  2. 20
    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (vwinsloe)
    vwinsloe: Religion/first contact
  3. 20
    Blindsight by Peter Watts (Waldheri)
    Waldheri: Similar because it also is full of philosophical and scientific concepts, and also has a first-contact theme.
  4. 20
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (sturlington)
    sturlington: Religion and aliens.
  5. 00
    The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson (FFortuna)
  6. 00
    God's Fires by Patricia Anthony (whiten06)
    whiten06: First contact, religious themes, and medieval backdrops.
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» See also 103 mentions

English (61)  Abkhaz (1)  All languages (62)
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
I thought this was very interesting and a good read. It is more historical fiction than it is science fiction though. Most of the action takes place in 1348-1349 southern Germany. We are introduced to the people and the subject by a historian researching a puzzling absence, in our time and by his physicist partner who's trying to work out new theories of space time. How do the two areas of research get tied together and how does that all relate to 14th Century Germany is the plot, I thought an interesting one. Good stuff. ( )
  Karlstar | Feb 19, 2021 |
This is an ambitious, meticulously researched, and impressive work of fiction spanning three topics (alt history, medieval science and religion, and aliens) which rarely come together. I didn’t find it particularly entertaining or mind expanding, so I’d give it 4-4.5 stars, but if you are particularly into medieval Germany, it could be a bit higher. ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
This is one of my favorite books! What a refreshing read! Took me awhile to figure out exactly what was going on. It flashes from the present to back in the 13th century but it is done superbly! It's amazing, what would people in the 13th century think of someone not of this earth? ( )
  lgllyblonde2 | Dec 28, 2020 |
Eifelheim is a crash course on life in the Holy Roman Empire in the Late Middle Ages and on remaining compassionate and unprejudiced in the face of hopelessness. It achieves this by brilliantly weaving together: insectoid aliens, a Catholic pastor, some quite convincing pseudo-physics, and the bubonic plague. If that intro doesn’t sound like the recipe for your new favorite novel then we’re two very different people.

(spoilers)

You may have heard elsewhere something like “those aliens aren’t really alien, they’re just funny looking humans” used to denigrate a science fiction novel for its unoriginality. With Eifelheim the similarity between the proto-German villagers and the interloping aliens called the Krenken is exactly the point.

To the reader the lifestyle of the krenkl is probably more familiar than that of the villagers of Oberhochwald in the middle of the 14th century. Flynn overcomes this barrier and ensures that we see things from the human perspective with our protagonist Pastor Dietrich, who from the highest education attainable in that era possesses a sharp and critical mind that relies on logic and observation to draw conclusions rather than dogmatism. In this way we experience the events of Eifelheim from the perspective of a modern man, an unlikely but not entirely inconceivable character to be found in Western Europe on the eve of the Renaissance.

With Dietrich’s eyes we see the nitty quotidian details of village life under the manorial system. Work, marriage, feasts, the law, traveling merchants, death, and an endless stream of Catholic holy days. We see the storming of a fortress and the inside of a battlefield surgeon’s tent. Journeys to the marketplace in the nearest city and the martial rules of the road on the way there and back. None of it is particularly grand or historically noteworthy, intentionally so. But each day we spend in the Breisgau adds detail to the picture of life in that place at that time that very well may faithfully depict how things really were. The amount of research that went into the setting is astonishing and, even ignoring all else, for that reason alone I found Eifelheim to be an immensely rewarding read.

So, over to our Krenken and their shipwrecked vessel hosting a few score tourists, scientists, and crew. Since we see them from the perspective of medieval villagers their antics are presented as incomprehensibly alien but when you look at what’s said and not how it’s said it’s clear that that couldn’t be further from reality. Some stop to take pictures of the church while others pick plants to test in the lab and yet more pull apart the ship’s innards and attempt to repair the fried circuitry. They wear varied clothes, react to events differently, and speak diverse set of languages that are inconsistently translated into German. They have no clear leader or universally respected order within their ranks and present anything but a unified front. They are generally nonthreatening save for a cultural predisposition towards corporal punishment that they willingly curb at the request of the humans.

And yet, most hochwalders still see them as a band of irredeemable demons sent to punish the village for what sins, exactly, nobody can truly say. Most hochwalders — but not our Dietrich. He serves as the bridge between villager and krenk in much the same way as how he connects us, the 21st century readers, to the villagers.

With neighborly hospitality and a willingness to communicate he averts what could have been a slaughter by the superior Krenken weaponry and works to build a mutually enriching relationship, not for any personal gain but because helping those in need is just what you do. By communicating they learn ways in which members of each species might offer their unique strengths to aid each other in their quest towards salvation. Prejudiced villagers slowly come around to their mantis-like guests as they witness their strife and sacrifice while spiritually impoverished Krenken learn the meaning of hope, faith, and mercy by the example of Dietrich and others. It’s a real kum-ba-ya situation, until all of the Krenken starve to death and the village is annihilated by the plague, that is.

As the novel progresses and the relationship with the aliens deepens, the distinction between krenk and human diminishes until finally it disappears completely. In the last days of the village of Oberhochwald and the Krenken adventure on Earth those that remain are brother and sister, both condemned to death by forces entirely outside of their control and accepting of their fate with the sense of grace and duty reserved for the enlightened.

Parallel to the medieval storyline is a modern-day account of the relationship between two professors, one theoretical physicist and one quantitative historian attempting to learn the truth behind Oberhochwald’s disappearance. This serves as a lighter and more familiar break for the reader while underlining how tolerance and open-hearted curiosity can uncover the hidden connections between concepts and strengthen those between people, throwing the themes of the other storyline into relief.

Straddling the line between historic fiction, science fiction, and so-good-it-needs-no-modifier fiction, Eifelheim is nothing other than a masterpiece. I have the same knot in my chest that I had after finishing Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. ( )
  gordonhart | Dec 13, 2020 |
This book is a beautiful, thought-provoking book about what might happen if aliens landed in medieval Europe, just before one bout with the black death. The prose style is very good, and I found myself liking all the characters I'm supposed to like. Unlike a lot of historical fiction I've read set in the middle ages, the author really seems to me to understand why people thought the things they did; it did not feel at all anachronistic.

One of the things that I thought was intriguing about it was the historical setting, just when science is about to take off in the universities; the leading character is a disciple of Jean Buridan, who was a key early Christian scientific thinker, now largely forgotten except by historians of science. Other thinkers such as Ockham make brief appearances. You can see the beginnings of scientific thinking, and how it was all mixed in with Christian theology.

A lot of authors I have read, even good ones, do not really seem to understand how medieval Christians; they typically impose modern grids on medieval persons, and it makes the people of the time look like idiots. This is a terrible way to do history; you shouldn't assume that the people are idiots, you should assume that if what they did doesn't make sense, you just don't understand their premises. You should assume if their system makes no sense to you, you just don't understand it; it must have some logic to it that made people of the time adhere to it, even if people today don't. This author has definitely researched his stuff and knows what he is talking about, and gives a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of how one of the best men of his time, with his obvious conceptual limitations, could deal with such a shock.

Interestingly enough, he also portrays the aliens in ways that we can understand--they are grappling with the same issues as humans, really, despite their radically different origins.

This book is by no means action-packed; the whole mood is contemplative, another thing that (to me at least) makes it feel less anachronistic. (This fits quite well with the protagonist being a priest.) Once again, it feels like Flynn really understood what these people would have been like, without imposing what we might expect today.

Although it's not action-packed, important things still happen; but you aren't left breathless. I found myself intrigued, not by what would happen next, but by how the characters would process what had just happened. How do these characters understand the moral issues that the situation raises? How do they understand the different alien society, as much as they are able? How do the aliens understand them? What would it mean to be a good alien in a world that's not your own? ( )
  garyrholt | Nov 5, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
"Flynn credibly maintains the voice of a man whose worldview is based on concepts almost entirely foreign to the modern mind, and he makes a tense and thrilling story of historical research out of the contemporary portions of the tale."
added by sturlington | editBooklist, 103 (2): 33, Regina Schroder (Sep 15, 2006)
 
"Another meticulously researched, intense, mesmerizing novel (based in some part on a 1986 short story) for readers seeking thoughtful science fiction of the highest order."
added by sturlington | editKirkus Reviews 74 (16): 815., Kirkus Reviews (Aug 15, 2006)
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Flynn, Michaelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hunt, StevenCover elementsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
IconicaCover elementsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, EllisaCartographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
StockTrekCover elementsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
For God is dead nowadays and will not hear us,

And for our guilt he grinds good men to dust.

      -- William Langland, Piers Ploughman
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.

      -- Marshal Villars, regarding the Höllenthal, 1702
Oh happy posterity who will not experience such abysmal woe and will look upon our testimony as a fable.

      -- Petrarch
Dedication
First words
I know where the path to the stars lies.
Quotations
Somewhere, he thought, there are creatures like these.
Stirred, a heart could be a terrible thing.
It's all that reading that does it, Dietrich. It takes a man out of the world and pushes him inside his own head, and there is nothing there but spooks.
Dietrich, watching the young couple depart, hoped the union would prove as loving for the couple as it promised to be advantageous for their kin.
Paul wrote to remind everyone that outward signs no longer mattered.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is a novel. Do not combine it with the 1986 novella of the same name.
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
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Wikipedia in English (1)

In 1349, one small town in Germany disappeared and was never resettled. Tom, a contemporary historian, and his theoretical physicist girlfriend, Sharon, become interested. By all logic, the town should have survived, but it didn't. Why? What was special about Eifelheim that it utterly disappeared more than 600 years ago? In 1348, as the Black Death is gathering strength across Europe, Father Deitrich is the priest of the village that will come to be known as Eifelheim. A man educated in science and philosophy, he is astonished to become the first contact between humanity and an alien race from a distant star when their interstellar ship crashes in the nearby forest.

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Book description
Over the centuries, one small town in Germany has disappeared and never been resettled. Tom, a contemporary historian, and his theoretical physicist girlfriend, Sharon, become interested. Tom indeed becomes obsessed. By all logic, the town should have survived. What's so special about Eifelheim?

In the year 1348, Father Dietrich is the village priest of Oberhochwald, later known as Eifelheim, when the Black Death is gathering strength but is still not nearby. Dietrich is an educated man, knows science and philosophy, and — to his astonishment — becomes the first contact person between humanity and an alien race from a distant star when their interstellar ship crashes in the nearby forest.

It is a time of wonders in the shadow of the plague. Flynn gives us the full richness and strangeness of medieval life, as well as some terrific aliens.

Tom and Sharon and Father Dietrich have a strange destiny of tragedy and triumph in this brilliant SF novel by the winner of the Robert A. Heinlein award.

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