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Eifelheim    by Michael Flynn order for
by Michael Flynn
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Tor, 2007 (2006)
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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Serendipity results in a cross-disciplinary look at a historical mystery by two partners in life - historian Tom Schwoerin and physicist Sharon Nagy. Eifelheim, a village in the Black Forest once known as Oberhochwald, seems to have disappeared from the map in 1348, after the Black Death swept across the world. But why was the area never resettled, as Tom's simulations of 'forces of history' indicate it should have been?

The story - an unusual mix of historical and science fiction that's weighty in philosophy - spends most of its time in the Middle Ages with regular flashes forward to the two scientists in modern times. Back in history we meet the mysterious Dietrich, the village pastor, who has a scientific bent and whose past involves years studying in Paris, followed by acts for which he still seeks expiation. In August, 1348, some sort of electrical storm hits the area, and soon afterwards, grasshopperlike aliens, soon known as Krenken, are discovered by Dietrich in the woods. He and a couple of others tend their wounds and give them aid, pretending that this is a colony of lepers. Communication (via the alien's technology) and understanding are slower to develop between them. Rumors soon spread abroad of devils in the area.

Gradually, a kind of friendship develops between Dietrich and the alien he calls Hans, particularly after the latter rescues the pastor from the fortress of a local robber baron. Though their differences are many - and cause problems in both communities - similarities in feelings and outlook become apparent, as when Hans tells Dietrich that, in the situation in which the Krenken find themselves, 'Hope may be a greater treasure than truth.' Dietrich helps them acquire copper wire to repair their cart. The aliens grow ill and start to die, lacking a vital nutrient. Though not trusting the repair they have made, some leave in the cart, but others remain to die in Eifelheim. When the Plague strikes, these Krenken help care for the villagers who helped them. But the rumors of demons linger long afterwards and the place is avoided.

While this tragic tale unfolds - of Krenken stranded to die of malnutrition far from home, and medieval villagers facing the dreaded Black Death - we also see Sharon postulating a theory regarding the possibility of instantaneous travel to parallel worlds, while Tom's research shows that it has happened and hence can happen again. Michael Flynn offers us an elegant and very credible, though slow moving, story in Eifelheim, based on the fascinating premise of an alien presence in the Middle Ages, that left only subtle clues in the historical record.

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