Close Encounters of the Fourteenth Century Kind

Howdy! I’m on vacation in Brazil for most of September, so I turned the tables on my readers and opened up the blog for guests posts while I’m gone. Today’s post comes from John, a.k.a. Mr. Lector’s Books.

I have a confession: I listen to a lot of audiobooks.  Where most people listen to music, I would much rather hear a story.  This is why (other than my utter lack of mathematical ability) I majored in history.  History courses and books are most engaging to me when I get to know the people involved and understand how situations and perceptions affect decisions and events.  One of my favorite books, and one assigned in my American History 101 class, is Killer Angles by Michael Shaara.  Killer Angles is a novelization of the Battle of Gettysburg and tells the story of the battle from the perspective of soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies.  To study a battle is one thing, but to read/hear it coming from the voices and conflicted inner monologues of real people brings depth to a war that divided our nation and shaped its future.

I enjoy historical non-fiction and books on current events, but, if I’m completely honest, most of the books I listen to are pure sci-fi escapism.  I love the world building of authors like Robert Heinlein, C.S. Lewis, Susan Collins, and John Scalzi.  When I need something outside of my trusted authors, I will randomly pick a sci-fi book from an author I haven’t read or heard of before.  Sometimes I end up with a dud, but other times I find gems like Eifelhiem by Michael F. Flynn.  This wonderfully strange book combines elements of actual history and sci-fi to produce a work of fiction that is truly unique and speaks to my historical and alien-loving geekiness.

Eifelhiem is about humans making contact with alien race that comes to Earth.  What is fascinating about the book is that the author sets this close encounter in fourteenth century Germany and the protagonist is the village of Eifelhiem’s priest.  As the author tells the story of the humans interacting with a “demonic” looking race of beings, there is a secondary plot set in the present.  In the present, a cliometric history professor (a field that uses economics to study the course of history) is trying to piece together why the village of Eifelhiem was abandoned in the fourteenth century and never inhabited again, while his wife, also a professor, ponders the mysteries of theoretical physics.

Like the history professor in the book, I came to admire the village’s priest, Father Dietrich.  Dietrich is a man whose fervor for his faith once led him down a darker path, but he now channels his passion into serving and taking care of the people of the village, his adopted home.  He is a man trained in religion, philosophy, history, logic, and science.  His learning and religious views are tempered by his age and wide array of experiences, making him a gentle and wise man and pastor.  His congregants love and respect him, and feel comfortable enough to make fun of his often technically brilliant yet dry sermons.

Dietrich is the first of the humans to recognize that the aliens, the Krank, are not demons.  He sees them as mortal men, simply different from himself.  However, he is not the first of the humans to offer hospitality.  The story explores themes of racism, charity, and grace.   It also delves into questions regarding the soul and who our “neighbor” is in the New Testament sense.

I would not call this a religious or Christian book.  The intent is to tell a story in the world of medieval Europe.  To tell a story in that place and time, just like when you study Western history, you have to consider the beliefs and motivations of that era’s people.  For Europeans at that time, their views of the world were shaped by the Catholic Church.  The author is not making a statement, just using the resources available to him during the time period of when he is writing.

I would recommend this book if you have any interest in history, economics, sci-fi, physics and/or if you have ever wondered how Christianity would reconcile the existence of sentient extraterrestrials.  I would also warn that the time period lacked our current medical understanding.  There are several scenes of detailed medical procedures that would seem counterintuitive to anyone who has even watched a modern medical drama.  There is serious foreshadowing throughout the book about the eventualities of the humans and the aliens. Even though the fates of the villagers and the visitors can be surmised through information in the book, I found that I still wanted to know how everything played out.  This is yet another unique quality of book I greatly enjoyed.

Thanks for reading,

John

Available (Audiobook): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Available (e-book): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

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3 thoughts on “Close Encounters of the Fourteenth Century Kind

  1. Debi Morton says:

    Well written, John! I don’t read sci-fi, but I will definitely pass your post on to Glenn, who loves it and also does most of his reading via audio book. He will totally appreciate your recommendations.

  2. Dean says:

    John, great post! Made me want to read the book. Given your preference for audiobooks made me wonder: is your review available as an audioreview?

  3. John says:

    Thanks, Debi! I got a recommendation from Glen via Janie for “The Mote in God’s Eye.” I really enjoyed that book and hope Glen enjoys the one I reviewed.

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