Thursday, March 29, 2007

Last night I finished Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. Part of Eifelheim is set in a medieval village in the Black Forest and part is in some un-specified near future. The main body of the novel is about some mysterious occurences in the village that possibly resulted in the village dying out and nothing being re-built where it existed. The "near future" part of the book is very small in comparison and could easily have been edited out.

Flynn doesn't write a lot of books, only nine that I am aware of, but he is one of my favourite science fiction authors. His early books started out in a definite Heinlein/Asimov mode - lots of good ideas and interesting plots but wooden characters that were mostly mouthpieces for ideas/plot points and not easy to distinguish from each other - but he has grown a lot as a writer.

This new novel is a little lighter on plot but has nicely developed characters and an interesting historical aspect. Flynn has been careful to have the characters act, and think, like actual medieval people. The strange occurences lead to some religous discussions that are quite interesting in context.

While I would rate this novel very highly, I think the mix of medieval viewpoints and modern storytelling might be a little offputting for some casual readers. I'm was not surprised to hear this morning that it was nominated for a Hugo award but I would be surprised if it won.

Amazon Link: Eifelheim

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Last night I finished The Aeneid by Virgil. Back in college, I had read a number of the classics for classes but didn't enjoy them and only did the minimum amount of reading/comprehension to get by. This changed a few years ago after I saw Troy . It's not a very good movie but after seeing it I was curious how closely it matched up with The Iliad. After reading Homer, it surprised me to find out that a lot of things I assumed were Hollywood add-ons were actually fairly close to the source. Contrary to what some critics wrote, Brad Pitt's portrayal of Achilles as a petulant, spoiled athelete is actually pretty close to the source material. I really enjoyed The Iliad and I went back and re-read some of the other classics I had neglected during college.

Since I know enjoy the classics, and I'm heading to Italy in a week or so, I decided to check out The Aeneid, Virgil's sequel to the Iliad where Aeneas leads the survivor of Troy around the Aegean looking for a place where the goddess Juno won't harass them. Eventually the gods guide them to Italy and they start the ball rolling that will eventually become Rome.

It's particularly interesting to read the little asides in the text where Virgil throws out praise to Aeneas's descendants, in particular the Caesars who were coincidentally running Rome at the time of the writing.

I have to admit that I cheated a little in reading both The Iliad and The Aeneid - I read prose versions. There is something about the visual structure of narrative poetry that makes it difficult for me to read. I don't consider this much of a cheat since these works were meant to be spoken, not read, and so the form of their writing is actually arbitrary. Some might argue that poetry best preserves the cadence of the lines but I don't see a lot of value in that, particularly since I am also not reading either of them in their original languages.

Amazon Link: The Aeneid