“Eifelheim” by Michael Flynn


What I heard about this book before reading: aliens crash land in medieval Germany.

Big reveal at end of the book: aliens crash landed in medieval Germany!  Uhhh….wait, what?

To be fair, we, the reader, learn about the aliens fairly early on; but all the characters do not.  This is a multiple POV book, with chapters switching back and forth between the 13th century Pastor Dietrich of Oberhochwald, and the present day adventures of Tom and Sharon, two academics studying historical patterns of settlement and esoteric GUT physics, respectively.  The overarching narrative is that of Tom and Sharon; that’s where things begin (Tom looking into a “missing” settlement where by all accounts there should be one) and end (digging up an alien corpse at the site of Oberhochwald — later renamed “Teufelheim” or Devil Home; abandoned out of fear and then linguistically smooshed [this is a technical term] to “Eifelheim”).  So one story is that of modern-day folk coming to understand wondrous events that happened long ago; but we, the reader, already get these events “as they happened” during the Dietrich chapters.

I understand that this novel started out as a short story, with only the Tom and Sharon parts.  Then the Dietrich parts were added later.  I don’t think it works totally well in the new form, to be honest.

Dietrich is kind of a silly character.  He’s a mashup pre-Renaissance man who knows something about everything; he immediately is able to relate physical science concepts explained by the Krenkl (the aliens) to medieval farming life or teachings from the ancient Greeks.

“Oh, some invisible force, with differing polarity?  Sounds like you are describing what I have observed when rubbing amber with cat fur …. hmmm, I shall call this phenomenon ‘electronika’, after the Greek word for amber!”

“Oh, an acid that is essential for a body to live?  Must be the first or most important thing for life then …. hmmm, I shall call these things ‘proteins,’ after the Greek protos or ‘first’!”

Oh, Dietrich.  You clever cleric.

The aliens’ dialogue is also silly and kind of painful to read.  They have automated speech recording and translation software and devices which they share with the German villagers, but naturally there are no medieval German words for many of the advanced technical concepts that aliens looking to repair their dimension-striding ship may need to discuss.  So everything is converted to analogies of medieval farming or religious dogma.

Eifelheim.  It’s a silly place.


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