Book Review: Eifelheim – by Michael Flynn

Dietrich, the main protatonist, is a Catholic priest in the small village of Oberhochwald in medieval Germany. In the summer of 1348, just before the Black Plague ravages Europe, a spaceship crashes in the nearby woods, setting off an electrical storm, lightning and fires. Some aliens are wounded, but most survive.

The aliens are adapted enough to earth’s atmosphere that they can exit their craft and survive. They are lanky beings, their heads smaller than human heads with huge yellow bulging, insect-like eyes and antennae. Their mouths are wide and they have soft front lips and horny side lips. With long arms and legs they are between five and over six feet tall. When they haunch down and sit, they hug their legs and their knees extend above their heads. They communicate by creating hissing and chirping sounds out of their side lips and by rubbing their serrated forearms together. To medieval Germans, they look like giant grasshoppers.

Of course, to medieval Germans, who are deeply steeped in religion, they also look like demons. Fortunately, the aliens have universal translating machines and head harnesses that they and humans can wear which do the translating. The translation software has to learn the vocabulary, and it gets built over time. This capability of the aliens saves them, since some of the humans quickly figure out that there are a lot of advantages that come with advanced technology. For instance, the aliens have flying harnesses. They have weapons with bullets, explosives, cameras, medical tools, all of which come in handy when you have to defend yourself against crooks and neighboring war lords.

The story plays in 1348 and 1349, but there is also a frame plot that plays today, where a historian and his physicist girlfriend figure out that there were aliens through a complex set of circumstances. This makes it a book with complex material, and that is confusing and distracting at times.

Flynn writes extensively about medieval lifestyle and history, and you really get immersed into that long-ago world.

He knows a lot of languages, and he shows off his Latin, Greek, German and French, sometimes without translation. I was able to get most of it, but the average American reader would simply not be able to follow. His language is stilted, and people talk unnaturally, or perhaps they really talked that way in the 14th century, and it just seems unnatural to me.

He uses an abundance of German, with German names of people and places, expressions, exclamations, all intended to make it seem real. Sometimes I wondered why he didn’t place the story into medieval England or Ireland. The spacecraft could easily have crashed there. He could have accomplished the very same goal, but with less confusion, because he could have remained in the English language, alas, he could not have shown off his German.

He waxes extensively about advanced physics and cosmology. This book would have been just fine with a little more focus on the real story and leaving out the modern physics. It simply didn’t connect.

Did he want to write a book about cosmology, the plague, medieval Germany and medieval religion? Maybe. He did write a book about what might happen if an advanced technological and completely alien race were to be mixed up with a feudal, pre-industrial society. That’s the part that kept me reading to the end. All the other stuff was interesting, but distracting and took the story out of focus.

Rating: *

DarwinCatholic: Here is another good review with a theological angle.

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