Saturday, August 18, 2007

Michael Flynn's "Eifelheim" (novel): When aliens visited a German village

Most of the story is simply a description of everyday life in a German village - in fourteenth century. Aliens enter to provide color. There is a small thread running, in parallel, in twenty-first century (in the US, I think).

I haven't really read the whole book. In nearly 2 weeks, I am barely about half way through. And I am not sure I will finish it; if I do, I might revisit this article.

  1. This story goes on way too long. Or may be I am not patient enough.
  2. I have zero background in medieval European history. While I can generally follow the story through, someone with right background will probably enjoy it more.
  3. I have zero background in Christianity. And this book is deeply into it.
  4. It uses a lot of not so commonly used words of English. Particularly densely in early pages, but also in later pages. It's my third language; may be those with English as first language will feel less frustrated.
In spite of this, it didn't really bore me (in fact, at times, it's humorous). Whenever I could make myself pick it up. But it's becoming more of a psychological strain picking it up!

This novel is available both in paper form, & as a free PDF download.

Story summary.
An alien ship, carrying researchers & holidaying folk some place, takes a kind of wrong turn & ends up crashing on earth - near the German village of Oberhochwald. While these aliens ("Krenkens") are star farers, much of their technology is roughly at the modern human level - as we learn through the book. Year is 1348 AD.

The event disturbs the routine life of villagers. We learn about the normal village life, a little about the aliens customs, & uneasy acceptance of the aliens by villagers. Where I left the story, aliens have been in the village for nearly a year.

Turns out that a few years after aliens' visit, the village was abandoned & renamed "Teufelheim" (meaning "Devil-home") - later corrupted to "Eifelheim". Devil is a reference to aliens. And the village has never been resettled. I suppose the reasons for abandoning & renaming are to be found in part of the book I haven't read.

All through, a very small parallel thread is running in modern times. Dr Tom Schwoerin & Sharon Nagy are a couple living together. Tom is some kind of analytical historian; Sharon is a super-smart physicist. Tom find Eifelheim anomaly, & is curious why it has never been resettled. Sharon keeps making mind-boggling discoveries in fundamental physics: that speed of light & Planck's constant are not really constants; that actual time elapsed in a second decreases (or is it increases?) as the universe ages; that galaxies are moving apart at speeds that cannot assume arbitrary values but are quantized. There might be more in pages remaining.

See also.
  1. Arthur Clarke's "Trouble with the natives": A short piece of humor about the adventures of aliens in an English village.
Fact sheet.
Eifelheim, novel, review
First published: 2006
Rating: B
Nominated for Hugo Award 2007 final round in novel category


Anonymous said...

The key to the abandonment of the village is the date - 1348. Over the period 1346-1351 about a third of the population of Europe died from the Black Death, which resulted in thousands of abandoned settlements all over the continent. Another SF work which might be of interest is Kim Stanley Robinson's "Days of Rice and Salt", an alternate history which originates from the virtually complete depopulation of Europe at that time, and how the world might have developed.