Tag Archives: medieval

“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.

“The Family Trade” by Charles Stross

Miriam was found as a baby next to her murdered mother.  She knew nothing of her birth family until much later.  Turns out she is from, and can travel back and forth to, a parallel universe.  The geography is the same and the history has some vague similarities, but it is much different.  The alternate world is stuck in the middle ages.  The Clan, a mob-style organization, controls import/export between the worlds — there are only a select few in the Family who possess the genetic trait that allows world-walking.  They are fabulously wealthy by selling our technology on the medieval side, and smuggling drugs on our side.  There are some very complicated politics going on that I (and Miriam too!) don’t fully grasp; unfortunately for Miriam the likely outcome is a violent end since several factions want her out of the picture, as she had been for 30+ years.  She is the heir to a major line of the Family.  Also we discover there is a THIRD world that nobody knows about; they have been sending assassins after Miriam too.   It’s almost comical that there are so many people gunning for her that we can’t tell who is behind what scheme.

This is definitely the start of a trilogy (or more); many strings are started and none wound up in the end.  Miriam needs to evade assassination and figure out what’s going on; also she is determined to bootstrap the medieval economy of the other world by finding some more legitimate way for the Clan to use their powers for good and still come out on top.

Kind of a cool scenario.  I wish I could world-walk.  But not if people would kill me because of it, I guess.

“The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco

William of Baskerville and his apprentice Adso, Franciscan monk versions of Sherlock and Watson, arrive at an abbey in northern Italy in 1327, shortly before a conference on the poverty debate is set to begin between emissaries of the Avignon pope and those of the Franciscan order.  A mysterious murder has occurred and is followed by one more each day.  William investigates and eventually cracks the case, of course.

Lots of history here about the medieval church, and associated issues.  Interesting story, but it kind of dragged along and was a chore to read, until the last 50 pages or so…then the action really picks up for an exciting conclusion.

Favorite line: “Quickly!  He’s eating the Aristotle!”

(note: the cover picture is not actually the edition I read.  Couldn’t find that one…actually I think it was a re-done, blank library cover. )