Saturday, December 30, 2006


by Michael Flynn
While I read this book, researchers in London announced new findings about the Antikythera mechanism, a 2000-year-old Greek computer discovered in a shipwreck in 1900. This was the kind of discovery that makes one wonder what other surprises remain to be uncovered from the past, or what past discoveries have yet to be correctly interpreted. Eifelheim tells two stories: one taking place "Now," as a historian struggles to determine why one of the many Black Forest villages hit by the plague in the 14th century was never rebuilt, despite its ideal location. (His partner, a physicist, is nearing a breakthrough that could also shed light on the case.) And the other story takes place in that village, shortly before its disappearance, as mysterious insect-like hominids suddenly take up residence in the nearby woods. We follow the priest, Dietrich, who happens to be the most educated man in town, as he tries to make sense of the visitors, who could've neatly fit in with the monstrous gargoyles on his church. Science as we know it does not yet exist, and there are no words for "interplanetary travel" or "alien species." The townspeople, who have spent their lives in the land the Grimm Brothers would later immortalize, interpret them as demons or mythical beasts, but Dietrich urges a cautious welcome. If, as they seem, they are stranded travelers, struggling to repair their craft, wouldn't it be the Christian thing to offer aid? Definitely the best medieval science fiction of the year.

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