Sunday, March 02, 2008

Read Any Good Books Lately?

I'm a narrative person--I don't even do my considerable amount of daily cooking without listening to a book on tape, otherwise I wander off to the blogs to keep my attention from flagging. I'm not a musical person--that's why I can't contribute to the friday random ten things. So I'd like to introduce a book club feature and tell you what I'm reading (today).

(Hogan, are you out there? After your recommendation of Jo Walton's Trollopian Dragon book I think of you as my secret sharer.)

I want to recommend the book I just finished. Eiffelheim by some guy whose name I can't remember at the moment. The book is sci fi, I suppose, winding its way between 1340 and the present time its the story of a little town in Germany that disappears at the time of the black death, and a historian and his physicist girlfriend in the 20th century each exploring a different aspect of time. The Historian is curious as to why this village was never resettled, the physicist is working on a new model of space/time that would enable us to step from the "outside of the balloon sphere" to the inside and cross unimaginable distances and dimensions in a single step. But the meat of the book is an incredible event which the author makes utterly plausible--that grasshopper like aliens crash land near the village and become enmeshed in its politics and society through the good offices of the village priest who becomes convinced that the "outward seeming" of the body doesn't determine whether it has a soul or not, and who converts some of the aliens to Christianity, and himself to humanity. The details of medieval German society, agriculture, food, warfare, religion and science are perfectly limned. The discussions between the aliens, whose complex hive like culture and advanced science can't be translated easily into language that makes sense to the middle ages are set out conversationally and delicately. The aliens and the priest discuss Occam's philosophy (William of Occam makes an appearance in the book) and all the then current theories of natural philosophy as the aliens try to explain why they can't walk home, and the Priest tries to explain concepts like free will, reason, and salvation. The thing that moves you so powerfully in the book though is how naturalistically and realistically all this is portrayed. The Priest's personal struggles, the everyday life of the village, the little betrayals and sorrows and jokes, are all so real that even the end, the terrible entry of the plague and meaningless death is rendered meaningful. I started it yesterday and finished it today--so haven't had any time to blog. Anyone want to post what they've been reading?