Hugo Review: Eifelheim

July 2nd, 2007

Four hugo books down, one to go…

The penultimate Hugo review for this year is Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn.

This is a complex story, told in two time periods and with three main characters…

  • Sharon Nagy is a physicist, on the brink of fundamental breakthroughs that could revolutionise physics.

  • Tom Schwoerin is a historian (and partner of Sharon), searching for the reason why the medieval village of Eifelheim was never resettled, as his own theories suggest should have happened.

  • Father Dietrich is the village priest of Eifelheim in the 14th century, where a spaceship full of aliens has just crash landed.

The novel weaves the three themes together, although the vast bulk of the novel is spent in the 14th century. The greatest strength of the novel is the picture that it paints of medieval life in 14th century Germany. The novel is exhaustively researched, and the detail of everyday life shows through.

The greatest weakness of the novel is that, having done all this research, the author is determined to force it down our throats. There are digressions, among other things, on the politics of the pope in the 14th century, the legal arrangements of a village, and details on land ownership. These are integrated in some extent into the story (no Clancy or Stephenson style info-dumps), but they still slow down the progression of the plot.

Most of the characters remain ciphers throughout the book, and there is far too much pointless obfuscation about the details of the aliens and their technology. It’s interesting to see all this through the eyes of the 14th century, but only up to a point.

The novel was adapted from a short story that apparently focused on the ‘current day’ scenes, and it shows. Those scenes are much tighter, and the exposition monster has given them only a light beating.

Overall, I was not a fan. I can see how it got nominated – it’s complex, unique and reasonably well written at a technical level. But I found it plodding, dull and overladen with facts.