In 1349, one small town in Germany disappeared and was never resettled. Tom, a contemporary historian, and his theoretical physicist girlfriend, Sharon, become interested. By all logic, the town should have survived, but it didn't. Why? What was special about Eifelheim that it utterly disappeared more than 600 years ago?
In 1348, as the Black Death is gathering strength across Europe, Father Deitrich is the priest of the village that will come to be known as Eifelheim. A man educated in science and philosophy, he is astonished to become the first contact between humanity and an alien race from a distant star when their interstellar ship crashes in the nearby forest.
Tom, Sharon, and Father Deitrich have a strange and intertwined destiny of tragedy and triumph in this brilliant novel by the winner of the Robert A. Heinlein Award.
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MICHAEL FLYNN lives in Easton, Pennsylvania. He is the winner of the Robert A. Heinlein award, and a Hugo Nominee for Eifelheim.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
During summer sessions, Sharon and Tom both did their research from home. That is easy enough today, when the world lies literally at our very fingertips; but it can be a trap, too, for what we need may lie just beyond the tips of our fingers. There is Tom hunched over the computer by the window, tracking down obscure references over the Net. He has his back to the room, which means to Sharon.
Sharon lounges on the pillow sofa on the other side of the room, notebook open, surrounded by wadded-up balls of paper and half-finished cups of herbal tea, thinking about whatever it is that theoretical physicists think about. She gazes in Tom’s direction, but she is looking on some inner vision, so in a way she too has her back turned. Sharon uses a computer, too, but it’s an organic one that she keeps between her ears. It may not be networked to the wider world, but Sharon Nagy creates her own worlds, strange and inaccessible, among which lies one at the very edges of cosmology.
It is not a beautiful thing, this world of hers. The geodesics are warped and twisted things. Space and time spiral off in curious, fractal vortices, in directions that have no name. Dimensions are quicksilver slippy—looked at sideways, they would vanish.
And yet . . .
And yet, she sensed a pattern lurking beneath the chaos and she stalked it as a cat might—in stealthy half-steps and never quite straightforward. Perhaps it lacked only the right beholding to fall into beauty. Consider Quasimodo, or Beauty’s Beast.
An alien voice intruded into her world. She heard Tom smack his PC terminal and she screwed her eyes shut, trying not to listen. Almost, she could see it clearly. The equations hinted at multiple rotation groups connected by a meta-algebra. But . . .
“Durák! Bünözö! Jáki!”
. . . But the world shattered into a kaleidoscope, and for a moment she sat overwhelmed by a sense of infinite loss. She threw her pen at the coffee table, where it clattered against white bone-china teacups. Evidently God did not intend for her to solve the geometry of Janatpour space quite yet. She glared at Tom, who muttered over his keyboard.
There is something true about Sharon Nagy in that one half-missed detail: that she uses a pen and not a pencil. It betokens a sort of hubris.
“All right,” she demanded. “What is it? You’ve been cursing in tongues all day. Something is bugging you. I can’t work; and that’s bugging me.”
Tom spun in his swivel chair and faced her. “Clio won’t give me the right answer!”
She made a pout with her lips. “Well, I hope you were able to beat it out of her.”
He opened his mouth and closed it again and had the grace to look embarrassed, because there was something true about him also. If there are two sorts of people in the world, Tom Schwoerin is of the other sort. Few thoughts of his failed to reach his lips. He was an audible sort of man, which means that he was fundamentally sound.
He scowled now and crossed his arms. “I’m frustrated, is all.”
Small doubt of that. Sharon regarded his verbal popcorn much as a miser does a spendthrift. She was the sort of person for whom the expression, That goes without saying, really does induce silence. In any event, Tom’s frustration was only a symptom. “Why are you frustrated?”
“Eifelheim won’t go away!”
“And why should it go away?”
He threw his arms out wildly. “Because it’s not there!”
Sharon, who had had another why ready in wait, massaged the bridge of her nose. Be patient, and eventually he would make sense.
“Okay, okay,” he admitted. “It sounds silly; but . . . look, Eifelheim was a village in the Black Forest that was abandoned and never resettled.”
“So . . . ?”
“So, it should have been. I’ve run two-score simulations of the Schwarzwald settlement grid and the site gets resettled every time.”
She had no patience for his problems. An historian, Tom did not create worlds, he only discovered them; so he really was that other sort of person. Sharon yearned for her geodesics. They had almost made sense. Tom wasn’t even close. “A simulation?” she snapped. “Then change the freaking model. You’ve got multicollinearity in the terms, or something.”
Emotion, especially deep emotion, always caught Tom short. His own were brief squalls. Sharon could erupt like a volcano. Half the time, he could not figure out why she was angry with him; and the other half of the time he was wrong. He goggled at her for a moment before rolling his eyes. “Sure. Throw out Rosen-Zipf-Christaller theory. One of the cornerstones of cliology!”
“Why not?” she said, “In the real sciences, theory has to fit the facts; not vice versa.”
Tom’s face went red, for she had touched (as she had known she would) upon one of his hot buttons. “Does it, a cuisla? Does it really? Wasn’t it Dirac who said that it was more important that the equations be beautiful than that they fit the experiment? I read somewhere that measurements of light speed have been getting lower over the years. Why not throw out the theory that light speed is constant?”
She frowned. “Don’t be silly.” She had her own hot buttons. Tom did not know what they were, but he managed to hit them all the same.
“Silly, hell!” He slammed his hand down sharply on the terminal and she jumped a little. Then he turned his back and faced the screen once more. Silence fell, continuing the quarrel.
Now, Sharon had that peculiar ability to stand outside herself, which is a valuable skill, so long as one comes back inside now and then. They were both being silly. She was angry at having her train of thought derailed, and Tom was angry because some simulation of his wouldn’t work out. She glanced at her own work and thought, I’m not helping me by not helping him, which might be a poor reason for charity, but it beats having none at all.
They spoke in counterpoint. She looked up, and he turned ’round, and they stared at each other for a moment and ratified a tacit armistice. The geodesic to peace and quiet was to hear him out; so Sharon crossed the room and perched on the corner of his desk.
“All right,” she said. “Explain. What’s this Zip-whatever theory?”
In answer, he turned to his keyboard, entered commands with the flourish of a pianist, and rolled his chair aside for her. “Tell me what you see.”
Sharon sighed a little and stood behind him with her arms folded and her head cocked. The screen displayed a grid of hexagons, each containing a single dot. Some dots were brighter than others. “A honeycomb,” she told him. “A honeycomb with fireflies.”
Tom grunted. “And they say physicists make lousy poets. Notice anything?”
She read the names beside the dots. Omaha. Des Moines. Ottumwa . . . “The brighter the dot, the bigger the city. Right?”
“Vice versa, actually; but, right. What else?”
Why couldn’t he just tell her? He had to make it a guessing game. His students, waiting beak-open for his lectures, often felt the same disquiet. Sharon concentrated on the screen, seeking the obvious. She did not regard cliology as an especially deep science, or much of a science at all. “Okay. The big cities form a partial ring. Around Chicago.”
Tom grinned. “Ganz bestimmt, Schatz. There should be six of them, but Lake Michigan gets in the way, so the ring’s incomplete. Now, what surrounds each of the big cities?”
“A ring of not-so-big cities. How fractal! But the pattern isn’t perfect . . .”
“Life’s not perfect,” he answered. “Microgeography and boundary conditions distort the pattern, but I correct for that by transforming the coordinates to an equivalent, infinite plain.”
“A manifold. Cute,” she said. “What’s your transformation?”
“Effective distance is a function of the time and energy needed to travel between two points. Non-Abelian, which complicates matters.”
“Non-Abelian? But then—.”
“B can be farther from A than A is from B. Sure, why not? The Portuguese found it easier to sail down the coast of Africa than to sail back up. Or, take our own dry cleaners? The streets are one-way, so it takes three times longer to drive there than it does to drive back.”
But Sharon wasn’t listening any longer. Non-Abelian! Of course, of course! How could I have been so stupid? Oh, the happy, unquestioning life of an Abelian, Euclidean, Hausdorff peasant! Could Janatpour space be nonisotropic? Could distance in one direction differ from distance in another? It’s always faster coming home. But how? How?
His voice shattered her reverie once more. “. . . oxcarts or automobiles. So, the map is always in transition from one equilibrium to another. Now watch.”
If she didn’t hold his hand while he complained, she would never get her own work done. “Watch what?” she asked, perhaps in a harsher voice than she had intended, because he cast her a wounded glance before bending again over the...
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