Sunday, September 6, 2015

Review of "Eifelheim" by Michael Flynn

Note this review is for the novella "Eifelheim," not the later novel expansion.

Michael Bishop’s No Enemy But Time is one of the great time travel stories of all time.  While there are several factors why, one is the fact Bishop doesn’t waste time mucking around with the fantastical mechanics of his time machine.  It exists, it works, and the main character is whisked into the past for the real story to be told.  No hand waving, pseudo-science foisted on the reader, I wish I could say the same of Michael Flynn’s 1986 novella “Eifelheim”.  Then again, if the pseudo-science were missing, there would be no novella…

Not time travel, rather cosmic discovery, 90% of the content of “Eifelheim” is Flynn madly gluing, taping, and stringing together disparate and esoteric reaches of knowledge, real and imagined, cramming them all in an imaginary conceptual box.  Polyverse, Big Bang, sociology, hypospace, the Plague, anthropology, Catholicism, and on and on runs the list of ingredients Flynn uses to create his dish of alien transport. 

Truly putting to the test the definition of hard science fiction, “Eifelheim” is less a story and more a concept build.  Were this concept to be relevant in some fashion - to anything, I could be engaged.  The fact it perpetually escalates to the most impossible of heights, I find myself asking the question: why suspend the disbelief?  Why try to understand this mad concept if it results only in fantastical pseudo-science with no bearing on anything save a dead horse science fiction trope: alien contact?

Further damaging the proceedings, “Eifelheim” floats somewhere between perfunctory and poor in terms of technique.  It is generally not well written.  Killing two birds with one stone, the following excerpt gives an idea of style as well as the madcap theory mashing:

    "I don't know where to start."
    "Start at the beginning."
    "Well ..." She thought about it. She took another sip of tea. "All right. Before the Big Bang—"
    "Whoa!" said Tom, laughing. "When I said to start at the beginning, I didn't mean the Beginning."
    "Honestly, Tom. Try to be serious." She waited until he had composed himself. "Why do apples fall?"
    "What?" He was startled by the question. "Gravity?"
    "Right. Now, why do currents flow?"
    "Electromagnetism. Do I get a prize?"
    "Maybe. Ask me tonight. Now, why is time accelerating?"
    He opened his mouth to reply, closed it, and looked at her quizzically."Some sort of force," he said slowly, almost to himself.
    "Exactly!" She clapped her hands together. "Accelerations require forces. Uncle Isaac said so. I call the force acting on time chronity…”

Yes, do try to be serious.

In the end, “Eifelheim” is a novella for the portion of science fiction fandom which revels in wild speculation on theory—emphasis on ‘wild’.  Otherwise, the writing is not good (gods how I dislike cheaply devised conversational info dumps), and ultimately is not so much a story as explanation of a pointless pseudo-concept.  If we take this, add that, twist in a little, gravitate toward the, shake three times, knock on wood, and inject rainbow turtles, voila—alien existence in the Medieval ages!  Useless…

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