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Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
Eifelheim is one of the best books I've read this year.
Pages: 320 (Paperback)
ISBN: 0-7653-1910-1 / 978-0-7653-1910-4
As a rule, I don't write bad book reviews. If I didn't like the book, I'm not going to spend the time to write about it, because who cares about it? My frustration with modern sci-fi has already been established, but authors like Stross, Robinson and Vinge are bringing me back to the fold. And then out of the blue last fall, Amazon recommended I look at "Eifelheim". After reading the blurb, I ordered it and devoured it. Minor spoilers follow below.
This book is SO darn good. It reminisces of 1993's Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (another amazing book) with intertwined storylines in the present and the middle ages (with the Plague). Eifelheim doesn't involve time travel, instead introducing a damaged alien spacecraft crash-landing. Both books involve a member of the medieval clergy fulfilling the call of their deity by assisting a stranded traveler.
Eifelheim's parallel storylines track the events happening in the distant past as the frightened inhabitants of the Black Forest (Germany) village of Oberhochwald experience a strange and supernatural event that sets the town afire and devastates the nearby forest. As days pass, they realize the forest is now inhabited by alien beings who are injured, fearful and secretive. The village pastor, Father Dietrich uses his secular and religious authority to reach out and contact the bizarre "Krenken" beings and protect them from the ignorant and xenophobic inhabitants of the surrounding lands. Dietrich is convinced that the Krenken are simply lost travelers whom his God says he should protect and succor, and even attempt to convert to Christianity. A strange alliance is formed where the Krenken are protected and partially welcomed as they seek to survive and repair their hopelessly damaged craft. Dietrich introduces the aliens to his God and spirituality, even baptizing several of the crew. The grasshopper-like beings try to explain the realities of the universe and technology as they cobble together improvised repairs to extremely advanced systems with crude and primitive tools and materials. All the while the stranded aliens sicken and die, finding Earth lacking in a critical nutrient they require and turning to desperate cannibalism of their dead in order to recover the life-giving chemicals so that the others may survive.
Interleaved with the chapters in the past, the storyline of present-day follows historical and advanced-physics research rushing towards an unlikely intersection as protagonist couple Tom & Sharon both pursue their respective fields into a collision late in the book. Sharon is unearthing the strange events of the past surrounding the village of Eifelheim (later we learn, a distortion of "Teufelheim", the condemning "devil home") which is what Oberhochwald was labeled by history. Gravestones with disturbing carvings, cryptic writings and sketches and strange historical accounts all begin to unravel and weave back together. Simultaneously Tom is chasing down a new angle on physics that suggests remarkable possibilities involving wormhole-like travel. Tom even begins to envision and design a circuit to explore this new phenomenon. Though unmarried, Tom and Sharon's long-time bond with each other begins to fray as they both become engrossed in their compelling works. They abruptly discover the intersection of their wildly-disparate fields one evening when Tom mistakes Sharon's ancient illumination in Dietrich's hand for his circuit diagram and realizes that someone centuries ago already knew the secret to this advanced theory and put it on paper.
There's scenes in this book that make your skin tingle, and your heart wrench, and that's pretty remarkable for a sci-fi book. Even atheists will pick up on the subtle allegory of the Krenken drinking of the body and blood of their fallen to save themselves. I can't recommend this book enough.