Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Eifelheim" by Michael Flynn: visiting the Middle Ages

Originally posted on January 15, 2007

I enjoyed "Eifelheim" by Michael Flynn (Tor Books 2006) more than any sf I've read in a while. The novel involves a statistician-historian in the very near future trying to track down why a German village wiped out by the plague in the 1300s was never resettled, though all of his models show that it should have been. The story then turns from the historian to the village that he is trying to study; most of the novel is set in the years 1348 and 1349. The author gives the reader a vibrant sense of life in an isolated village in the Middle Ages, with detailed description of the town and its complicated individuals, as well as the milieu they live in.

The 'sf' part of the plot includes both theoretical physics as well as "bug-eyed monsters" - who are also unique and carefully drawn individuals. The rest involves discussions of religion and politics in the middle ages; tragic misunderstandings (that reminded me of Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow"); philosophic discussions of good and evil and what it means to be human; and a lot of multilingual wordplay. Not to mention that William of Ockham comes to visit.

This novel doesn't "move" like the usual run of sf that is intended for fifteen-year-old boys; but it is not a slow-paced story or overlong. The fascination really is in the detailed portraits of the lives of the individuals in the mill and fields, homes and castle and church, and the way they think about the world. And on top of that, it's nice to join in with an an author having fun with words! (It did occur to me that it must have been "Teufelheim"... and what is "cliology", anyway?)

In the middle of reading the book I decided to look up "Eifel" and found this web page on someone's genealogy site: It seems that the Eifel Mountains (in the general area covered by the novel) had in the past a spooky reputation. It is that kind of book, encouraging you to take your own digressions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cliology? Well, there is this -- check it out: on Aug 4, 08.
"The word comes from Clio, the muse of history for the Greek and Romans, with the “dynamics” part referring to the central concept proposed by (Peter) Turchin, that history -- contrary to what most historians might think -- is not just one damn thing after another, that there are regular and predictable patterns, from which we can learn and that we can predict."