China Miéville: “Embassytown” (c) 2011.

China  Miéville is a highly acclaimed British science fiction author. His novels have been awarded or been  nominated for a number of awards, including  the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA,  Locus, Nebula, and Hugo Awards. 

“Embassytown” is a SF  novel.   The city of  “Embassytown” is a human colony on the planet of Ariekei. The novel is complex and thought-provoking. It is a story of  human-alien encounters, of political interventions and deadly consequences, that ultimately result in the evolution of the original Ariekei Language to a New Language.

Miéville’s novel won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2012 and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke, Nebula, and Hugo Awards for Best Novel.

Miéville invents imaginative vocabulary and a language that is part of the fictional world of Ariekei.  The fictional language helps us to visualize the planet Ariekei, the lives of the indigenous Ariekei, and the humans.  But the purpose of the fictional language goes beyond that.

As I read through the novel, what was fascinating for me was how Miéville is able to convey the differences in understanding between human and Ariekei: how language is used to express thoughts and different perceptions of reality, of truth and lies.

The Ariekei have no written language or automata as humans do. But the Ariekei are advanced in biotechnology. Their homes, buildings, tools, telephones, their “automata” , everything is “biorigged” i.e. made in part of living matter. Their remarkable biotechnology is valuable and important to the other worlds and planets.

In the the Ariekei Language, words are spoken simultaneously. Each Ariekei has two mouths: Cut mouth and Turn mouth. Their thoughts, perception of reality, and words are connected so that they cannot lie and cannot speculate. For them, to lie is to do the impossible. And they hold a Festival of Lies, to challenge themselves to lie!

The Ariekei cannot understand human speech. The only humans able to communicate with the Ariekei are the Ambassadors. Each Ambassador is actually two people: genetically engineered twin-clones, humans who are identical physically and mentally. With neurolinks inserted in their necks, their brainwaves are in complete empathy, and they are trained to speak simultaneously, so that the Ariekei can understand them.
From time to time, the Ariekei choose a human to represent a particular simile in their Language and through the simile they can communicate with the humans.

Avice Benner Cho is the narrator and the central human character of the novel. Originally from Embassytown, she has traveled and worked in the “immer”, a permanent universe for interstellar travel,  to other worlds and planets. She is a simile, a part of the Ariekei language. Avice returns to Embassytown, after many years of working in the immer.

Embassytown is an important Immer outpost for the powerful state of Bremen in the outer world. To exert more political control over the outpost, Bremen sends a new Ambassador to Embassytown.

The humans and Areikei are confounded and faced with an impossibility. The new Ambassodor is very different from previous Ambassadors: the new Ambassador is two physically different persons, not twin clones. The two men can speak simultaneously like the Ariekei, but their speech puts the Ariekei into a trance, and very rapidly the Areikei become addicted to this new use, or misuse of their Language.

The result is deadly. There is escalating chaos, violence, and divisions among the human colonists themselves, and among the Ariekei themselves.

The Ariekei want the freedom to decide how to use their own Language — what to hear, what to say. Avice realizes the Ariekei are expressing dissent.

A growing number of Ariekei tear away their fanwings, so that they can no longer hear the new Ambassador’s addictive speech. However, these Ariekei also lose the ability to speak. Avice observes a new form of communication among them. It is simple gestures, pointing, “that” and “not that”. Learning to convey contradictions.

She contacts another Ariekei dissident group, those who had participated in the Festival of Lies. She teaches them to form and speak similes, metaphors. The new Ambassador’s addictive speech no longer has any effect on them.

Ultimately, a New Language emerges, where thought and reality can be expressed in speech,  signs,  ideograms,  and  a written language,  that indicates a remaking of the mind itself.





Robert Silverberg, editor: “Murasaki” (c) 1992

Robert Silverberg, editor: “Murasaki” (c) 1992

“Murasaki” is a sci fi novel in six parts by Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Nancy Kress, and Fredrick Pohl, edited by Robert Silverberg.

 The novel is about three vastly different, intelligent alien races, on two closely revolving planets, Genji and Chujo, around the fictional star Murasaki.

The story becomes more complex when human space explorers set foot on the planets in the 23rd century. Various expeditions from Earth, Mars, and the Spacer habitats arrive – including Americans, Japanese, and British; and there are researchers and scientists, from various fields; and missionaries.

Mixed in with the excitement of discovery, there is the unsettling realization for the humans that the three alien races have their own cultures, histories and conflicts. The humans cannot apply directly Earth-based paradigms or methods or knowledge of cultures, societies or civilizations to the aliens they encounter.

Bio-engineered spaceships ? Ancient cities left by choice? Whales capable of receiving and sending light signals? What is clear to Chujoans and Genjians is a deep mystery to humans.

At the end of the novel, some of the humans feel that the role of humans is irrelevant on Murasaki and they choose to return to Earth. For others, the new knowledge and experiences they have acquired becomes an important challenge to learn even more, and they choose to remain on Genji and Chujo.  For Rilla Johnson, born on Genji, the Murasaki system is her home.

And the challenge to continue to explore space remains strong.  As the story ends, new arrivals from Earth arrive on the planets. And among these is a young man, Kevin Kammer-Washington, the son of Aaron Kammer and Nicole Washington, two members of the first expedition to the Murasaki system.


Background information

Robert Silverberg, the editor, provides an introduction to “Murasaki”: it is a “shared-world” anthology of stories , in which the authors explore the same set of ideas and characters, set in the same fictional world.

Naming the star and its planets:    “Murasaki” is the fictitious name of an actual star HD 36395 (in the constellation Orion).

In the novel, the star system was first explored by a Japanese interstellar probe, and is given the name “Murasaki”, after Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese novelist, poet and lady-in-waiting at the Japanese Imperial court in the 10th/11th century. The title of her best known novel is Genji Monogatari or “The Tale of Genji” ; in her novel Hikaru Genji is the name of the hero and To no Chujo is his close friend.
In the sci fi novel , the larger of the two planets is named Genji, and the smaller one is named Chujo.

As I read the novel, the story flowed well from one writer to the next. And at the end of the novel, an integrated picture emerged based on the histories, cultures, and evolution of the Genji and Chujo alien races, and the critical role that the carpet whales play in the survival of the two races.

Frederick Pohl and Poul Anderson set up the physical characteristics of the fictional Murasaki system in terms of the atmosphere, geology, chemistry, flora and fauna.
(Appendix A : “Design for two worlds” by Poul Anderson; and Appendix B: “Murasaki’s worlds” by Frederick Pohl).
The Murasaki system is about 20 light years from Earth, and in ships time that’s 11 years. The star itself is a red dwarf star with a yellowish tinge to its light.

The planets Genji and Chujo are close to each other, about 40% of the distance between Earth and the Moon. Both planets have oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres somewhat similar to Earth. However, the gravity and the atmospheric pressure of Genji, and of Chujo, are different enough from that of Earth, that humans must wear space suits with artificial decompression, or risk acute and chronic damage to the lungs.

In the novel  the story unfolds  in the following sequence:
Frederik Pohl : The Treasures of Chujo
David Brin : Genji
Poul Anderson : Language
Gregory Benford: World Vast, World Various
Greg Bear: A Plague of Conscience
Nancy Kress: Birthing Pool


The story is set in the 23rd century. The first Earth-based expedition is sent to the Murasaki system when a Japanese robot probe reports Earth-like planets and intelligent life in the system. The crew of the starship includes Spacers, from the asteroid habitats in Earth’s solar system and from Mars. The expedition is under orders to leave the Murasaki system when a Japanese expedition force arrives. The exploration teams quickly wind up their brief survey of the planets Genji and Chujo. Two crew members, Nicole Washington and Aaron Kammer are on Chujo; Kammer goes alone to explore the forested area, and does not return.  The starship leaves without Kammer, who is presumed to be dead.

The departing Spacer expedition shares with the Japanese their knowledge and experience from their expeditions to Chujo and Genji. The Japanese begin the work of establishing more permanent expedition bases. This includes building pressurized facilities for living and research purposes; power and fuel processing units; computing facilities; hydroponic units and facilities to produce food in artificial environments.

On Genji the side of the planet that constantly faces Chujo is called “Moonside” ; an ocean dominates the geographical features on this side of Genji. The Ihrdizu are Genji aliens who live in villages near the seashore. They are amphibian-like with torpedo-shaped bodies, and four telescoping eyes that give them an almost panoramic vision.

Minoru is a Japanese biologist. Using translator machines, he learns from the Ihrdizu villagers about their society, their culture and history. The Ihrdizu cultivate swamp farms in the forested hills, and have designed birthing pools that are flooded at high tide, leaving behind flora and fauna when the waters recede. The pools are used by Ihrdizu females after mating; the egg sacs containing embryos develop in the pools; the young hatch out in the pools. The males are farmers and tend to the young in their family, whereas the females are the warriors. The Ihrdizu believe that Chujo is the home of Angels.

As Minoru makes a closer study of the Genji ecosystem, and its geological history, he discovers flora and fauna fossils that indicate Genji has gone through devastating  ecological changes a number of times in the past. The mystery deepens when he comes across a  medallion with writing on it. This adds to findings by other Japanese teams that Genji has also gone through a rise and fall in the invention of metallurgy a number of times.

The himatids or carpet whales live in the vast ocean on Genji’s moonside. The Ihrdizu have a history of enslaving and hunting the carpet whales for food.

Over the years that follow, researchers from different countries come to the Murasaki system. On Genji an Exploration Corps is established for scientific research and xenological expeditions. One of their responsibilities is to assess and allocate resources to various research activities.

Rita Byrne, one of a very few humans born and raised on Genji, is a member of the Corps. She has flown from the mountainous starside of Genji, to the Moonside of Genji, to meet with Malchiel Holden, a reclusive biologist. The life-cycle, migratory habits and communications of the carpet-whale is of particular interest to Holden. His research shows that the carpet-whale has an intelligence different from the Ihrdizu, Chujoans, and humans. The carpet-whales have their own language of signals with complex semantics and structure.

In their biological development, himatid calves move from the tidewater near the shores to the more arctic-like open waters of the ocean, with migrating adult carpet whales, and mature into whales. When Rita is at Holden’s research outpost, Holden accompanies a himatid calf to the open sea to join with migrating whales. Rita tracks the carpet whales in her flyer, and witnesses a violent encounter. Holden has confronted two Ihrdizu whaling ships which have harpooned a carpet whale. Using explosives, he sinks one of the vessels, and kills three Ihrdizu as they try to board his schooner.

Rita confronts Holden as there are very stringent laws against killing any intelligent life forms or aliens. Holden defends his actions: The Ihrdizu think of himatids as animals, and have a history of hunting them for food. He is determined to protect the himatids because his research shows that the whales are intelligent and he believes the basis of their language is biological. Eventually Rita joins Holden in his research on the whales,  and they marry.

With jagged mountains, smaller seas, and a colder environment, Chujo is a different planet than Genji. The Japanese expeditions find a great deal of evidence of an ancient Chujoan civilization. Their abandoned cities still stand. The Chujoans are now a nomadic race, but at one time they were farmers: there are ancient irrigation channels in the valleys. Some of their grain fields still exist.  These and other observations suggest the Chujoans once had considerable technological  skills. However, all attempts to communicate directly with the Chujoans have failed.

Physically, the Chujoans have legs and arms but their large oval heads, and four-fingered hands with blue nails set them apart from the Ihrdizu and humans. Their most distinctive feature is the symbiotic living mat, or “snug” of microorganisms that covers their entire body.

It is only later on when closer contact occurs between the Chujoans and the humans, that more is learned about the Chujoans and their earlier biotechnological expertise and civilization. And that in fact the Chujoans and Ihrdizu are genetically related.

Miyuki is a geophysicist with a Japanese team of biologists and sociologists, on Chujo. She explores a large ruined, abandoned city, with its airy buildings and carved and fretted stonework. As in the other abandoned cities, there are mysterious wall paintings and engravings. There is a particular stone artwork that has shown up also in the other ruins. The art work is of a tiger eating its own tail. A figure of a Chujoan is twisted in the tail. Green teardrops fall from the sky.

Miyuki’s team also observes the Chujoans have a type of “library”, with cube-shaped objects stored in  cairns of stacked stones.

While the Japanese team is on Chujo, their robot space probes show the Chujoan tribes migrating towards the mountains. Miyuki and the team fly to the region. They land on a valley floor which is covered with an extensive mat of interconnected green algae and fibers. The giant mat begins to move  with the strength of earthquake-like tremblors.  The Japanese find themselves hurled off the mat as it rises off the valley floor. Some of the gathered Chujoans scramble across the mat as one edge of the giant algal mat rises into the air, leaps upwards, and merges with another rising edge of the algal mat, to form a balloon or “bioloon”.   Chujoans scramble into pockets in the bioloon.

Miyuki and her team watch as other bioloons rise into the sky . They are like the green teardrops in the artwork in the abandoned cities.  The “bioloons”  move up into the sky towards Genji,  but soon fall back to the ground, killing  the Chujoans in the bioloons.

The protection of the Ihrdizu and Chujo cultures and beliefs becomes significant when an American Christian group arrives on Genji. Their leader is Robert Carnot. He preaches a gospel based on “God the Physicist”, Jesus as the savior, and he talks of reuniting Genji and Chujo.

By this time, a Japanese expedition has discovered that Aaron Kammer from the first expedition to Murasaki is alive, on Chujo, and is being cared for by Chujoan shamans. Carnot meets with Kammer and claims that Kammer is a resurrection or an avatar of ancient Chujo spirituality.

Edward Philby, the First Planetfall co-ordinator, realizes that the Ihrdizu and Chujoans have their own way of thinking, their own language,. He sees the danger that Carnot poses to the cultures of Genji and Chujo. and  he convinces  Kammer  to help stop Carnot’s preaching.

Kammer arrives on the Genji seashores to meet with Carnot and Philby, in a meeting arranged by a Japanese scientific liaison Suzy Tatsumi. As Kammer walks along the shore he sees racks of himatid calf and carpet whale skins. He is furious at the sight of the destruction of the whales by the Ihrdizu. He has realized that the whales are critical to the survival of Genji and Chujo. A group of female Ihrdizu now surround Kammer and Carnot, and stone the two men to death.

About 30 years have passed since the first expeditions to Genji and Chujo. Jordan Dane is First Conciliator, to resolve conflicts among the different human groups. Dane is a librarian, and a specialist of Quantum Effect Devices (QED). These devices are used by the various researchers to receive data from the main computer at Okuma Base.

Jordan Dane and scientific liaison Suzy Tatsumi , and other researchers monitor the data flowing in from Chujo and Genji, and are transfixed by the  unfolding events.

On the valley floors of Chujo, the giant green mats are rising again, many years after the first observations of the “bioloons” by the early Japanese expedition. Chujoans are migrating to the valleys.

On Genji, the carpet-whales are all swimming to the mainland waters, towards the Ihrdizu seashores.

Bruce Johnson is a xenobiologist. As he watches the migrations of the whales, he wonders if an outside signal has triggered a genetically-coded behavior. Curious and excited,  Bruce uses a fuzzy-logic software, searching for correlations between seemingly unrelated events.

The whales arrive and remain stationary in the straits, at a point where Chujo is exactly overhead. The whales roll over to their ventral sides. Light from the star Murasaki strikes millions of light refractors embedded in the whales’ ventral sides. Light signals from the whales flash into the sky and focus the light on the green snug mats on Chujo.

On Chujo as the huge living mats rise and their edges merge, Chujoans scramble across them as before, and scramble into pockets in the mats. The rising  bioloons  change shape precisely  as simultaneously, the whales on Genji are observed to change the focus and intensity of light from their refractors. The whales continue to change their light signals and the shape of the bioloons flattens out as they move forward into space, and towards Genji.

As the bioloons enter the Genji atmosphere, a heat shield forms around them. Their  shapes change into giant parachutes.  As the bioloons drop into the sea, the whales guide them towards the seashore. The Ihrdizu welcome the Chujoans as they emerge from the bioloons.

The explanation for these events emerges from the etchings  (the “library”) that the Chujoans provide to the humans, breaking their silence of nearly three decades.

The Chujoans are the “Masters” of bio-engineering, and have used their skills to create a balanced ecology on Genji.  But from time to time, errors in their bio-engineering  devastate the Genji ecology and significantly, devastate the Ihrdizu birthing pools.  The whales exile the Chujoans to their own planet,  to create new bio-engineered green mats and to restore Genji’s ecological balance. The new bio-engineered mats arrive in Genji in the form of the bioloons, together with the Chujo Masters to help in the restoration work on Genji.

The whales are critical in keeping this link intact between the Genji Ihrdizu and Chujoans. When there are not enough  whales  to make the correct light  signals,  the bioloons fall back to the ground on Chujo and never make it to Genji.

With the successful journey  of the Chujo  Masters and the new bio-engineered bioloons to  Genji,  the work of  transforming Genji’s degraded  ecology begins.  And the Ihrdizu birthing pools once again provide a safe environment for the development of young Ihrdizu.

 Reserarchers like Bruce Johnson decide to remain  on Genji, rather return to Earth.  For Bruce,   there are many  new exciting scientific challenges, including more research into the origins of the whales, and the  bio-engineering  alteration of plankton, and of  land flora and fauna.

On the other hand, Jane Johnson, Bruce Johnson’s wife, returns to Earth.  She perceives the aliens to be  animal-like,  and  does not believe that humans have any  relevant role to play in the Murasaki system.

Their ten-year old daughter, Rilla, was born on Genji. She considers Genji as her home, and her decision to remain on Genji, with her father, is approved by the First Conciliator.

Even as some people return to Earth, the Murasaki system draws the curiosity and interest  of others.  Among the new arrivals  is a young man, Kevin Kammer-Washington, the son of Aaron Kammer and Nicole Washington, two members of the first expedition to the Murasaki system.



Michael Flynn: “Eifelheim” (c) 2006.

Michael Flynn: “Eifelheim” (c) 2006.

Michael Flynn is a science fiction writer whose stories are often about space-faring. He  won the Prometheus Award, for his novel “In the Country of the Blind”, and also for the novel “Fallen Angels”, co-written with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. He won the Theodore Sturgeon Award in 1998 for the story “House of Dreams”.   He has also been awarded the Robert A. Heinlein Medal, for his sci fi writings.
His novellas and novels have been nominated for the Hugo Award multiple times.

The 2006 novel “Eifelheim” is based on the 1986 novella “Eifelheim”.

Eifelheim is a fictitious medieval village in the Black Forest region of Germany. The village is abandoned in 1349, when the Black Plague spreads to it. But it is not resettled again, and the area around it, Hollenthal (Hell’s Valley) is avoided by all travelers.

Using nonfictional historic figures, events, places, and scientific theories, Michael Flynn has created a very imaginative and compelling fictional story that has the elements of historical fiction and science fiction.

I found the story fascinating from a number of perspectives — the historical facts; the fictional characters — the contemporary ones, the medieval ones, and the aliens, the Krenken, from another star system; the different world views — those of the medieval times and those of the Krenken; and there is also the advanced science technology the Krenkens have developed, including space travel in “one great leap” across star systems.

So, here is how I’ve organized my write-up:

  • A summary of the overall story.

  • Quotations from Flynn’s introduction, and from the history and physics notes at the end of the novel: about the historical facts –people, times, and places — that provide the framework for the novel. I’ve added brief notes about the connections to the story.

  • The characters. I’ve added more details about the story here. It will make for a rather convoluted summary of the story, rather than a chronological one.

  • The conclusion of the story in the “NOW”: to the medieval graveyard of the Krenken whom the last Pastor of Eifelheim, Dietrich, had called “Johann von Sterne” or Johann of the Stars.


Tom Schwoerin is a contemporary historian whose curiosity, research and intuition lead him to an extraordinary conclusion about the abandoned village Eifelheim:

In 1348, aliens from another star system crash-landed in the Great Woods of Oberhochwald, the original name of Eifelheim. Pastor Dietrich of the village reaches out to them, to help them survive, until the Krenken can repair their starship, and return home. Some of the Krenken eventually leave for their home star. And some remain in the village.

By the time the plague reaches the village in 1349, the presence of the Krenken has become known in the surrounding region, and they are viewed as demons. Pastor Dietrich sends away those villagers who are still well enough, to live in the Black Forest, until the plague has passed. Dietrich and the Krenkens remain in the village to tend to the sick and dying.

The village dies away. With time, the extraordinary events become folktales of demons and “flying Krenkl”. Oberhochwald is renamed Teufelheim or “Devil’s home”, and later  Eifelheim. People avoid the region entirely.

From Flynn’s great introduction & notes to the history of those times:

On a front page:
Dedication to “Jean Buridan de Bethune, the Paris Master”.

Jean Buridan (c. 1295 – 1363) was a priest and philosopher who studied and later taught at the University of Paris. He studied and taught logic, natural philosophy, and theology.

In the novel, Pastor Dietrich of Eifelheim is a former student of Buridan. His knowledge of natural phenomena, of algebra, of astronomy, of medieval mechanical inventions, and of philosophy and theology will be key to his understanding of the Krenken, the aliens from another world.

The Black Death:

From about 1347 to 1351, Europe was devastated by the Black Plague.
The impact was felt on all aspects of life — religious, social, and economic.

Flynn quotes lines from a 14th century epic allegorical poem, “Piers Ploughman”, with complex religious themes:

“For God is deaf nowadays and will not hear us,
And for our guilt he grinds good men to dust.”

by William Langland, 14th century Englishman, who is the presumed author of “Piers Plowman”. (see reference at the end).

In the novel, when the plague reaches Eifelheim in 1349, it causes immense grief, questions and doubts in the minds of the villagers. More so because of the presence of the strange beings in their village. Are these strange beings demons? And why has Pastor Dietrich baptized some of them, accepted them as Christians?

The location:

Eifelheim is part of the the Black Forest region near Freiburg. The road between Eifelheim and Freiburg passes through Hollenthal or Hell’s Valley. It is a perilous journey because the gorge is deep and narrow, with steep ravines and cliffs. In the medieval ages, travelers, merchants, and pilgrims, risked being attacked by the lord of Falkenstein Castle. The Castle was built high up on a pass, with a commanding view of the valley.

In the 18th century, Marshal Villars, a general of Louis XIV of France, refused to take his army through “le Val d’Enfer” as he referred to Hollenthal:
“C’est le chemin quon appelle le Val d’Enfer. Que votre Altesse me pardonne l’expression; je ne suis pas diable pour y passer.”

Marshal Villars, regarding the Hollenthal , 1702.

Freiburg was founded in 1120, and the University of Freiburg was founded in 1457.

In the novel, Freiburg is a thriving medieval city, providing goods and services to surrounding towns and villages like Eifelheim.


From the Physics notes at the end of the novel:

As best as I see it:
In the novel, contemporary physicist and cosmologist Sharon Nagy researches variable light speed theories. Her concept of the fictional “chronon”, a “quantum of time” , provides a plausible explanation for how the Krenkens travelled through space. It is the equivalent of jumping across enormous distances in one great leap, from one star to another, or one universe to another.

Something went wrong with the Krenkens’ starship, and they ended up traveling in hypospace, between star systems, and crash landed on Earth.

The Characters

Characters in the contemporary times (“Now”):

Tom Schwoerin is a cliologist, or a mathematical historian, who uses various models and theories based on patterns, to research and find places and civilizations of the past. He is puzzled why the models do not show a resettlement of Eifelheim, after its demise in the 14th century.

Sharon Nagy is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, researching universe models of the cosmos, and quantum red shifts.

Tom and Sharon are longtime life partners. They live together and frequently talk of their different research areas, to clarify their own thinking and ideas. It is one such exchange that leads Tom to extend his research to archived medieval manuscripts. And the same conversation gets Sharon thinking about variable light speeds.

Their ideas and research area cross paths again, when Judy Cao, a librarian and a narrative historian, discovers a medieval manuscript of a drawing that looks very similar to Sharon’s drawing of an electrical circuit related to her theories of the “chronon” and hypospace travel.

Judy Cao’s ability to research and read through medieval manuscripts becomes the key for Tom’s research into Eifelheim. It is from Judy that Tom first learns that the original name of Eifelheim was Oberhochwald, later renamed to Teufelheim, or Devil’s home.

Anton Zaengle is a historian at the University in Freiburg. He and Tom are friends and research colleagues. They exchange information and ideas about Eifelheim’s history. Judy Cao does historical research for both of them.

Monsignor Heinrich Lurm is an official of the Diocese of Freiburg; an extraordinary amateur archeologist and field expert.

14th century Eifelheim :

Dietrich is the Pastor of St Catherine’s Church in Oberhochwald.
His assistant is Brother Joachim von Herbholzheim, a Franciscan, from the Strassburg Friary.

The Krenken have spindly figures with long torsos, and big golden globular eyes. They look like grass-hoppers when seated, with their long limbs over the top of their heads. They dress in vests and loose pants. As Dietrich comes to know individual Krenkens, he gives them particular names.

There are three particular Krenkens that Pastor Dietrich comes to know quite well:
Johann von Sterne, from whom Dietrich learns a great deal of the Krenken society and culture; Kratzer, who is a philosopher; and the captain of the ship, Gschert.

The starship is an exploration ship, and there are three different groups of Krenken on board:
The ship’s crew members. Their original captain died in the crash. The new captain Gschert is an arrogant man, quick to anger. (in German Gschert means “stupidly rude”).
A second group consists of philosophers who study new lands and they are headed by Kratzer.
A third group consists of pilgrims, traveling to see strange and distant lands. They are headed by a Krenkerin, a woman, whom Dietrich calls Shepherd. There are also children traveling with the group.
The Krenken know that such journeys are a risk and they may never return home.

Johann is a member of the ship’s crew and in charge of various electronic devices on board. The devices include computers, “the talking head” which is a portable electronic communicator and translator; and tiny audio/visual recording devices or “bugs”. Johann becomes the Krenkens’ main link with Dietrich as he is the translator.

The translation, meaning, and interpretation of words is a challenge, but Dietrich and Johann are both keen to learn about their different worlds. They talk about the Krenken and German differences in the understanding of matter, energy, time, spirit, and soul. They talk of Jesus (“Lord-of -the-sky”), of obedience and loyalty, and of authority.

The Krenken  society is hierarchical and structured. They believe that what they are — Herr, philosopher, explorer, etc is written into the “atoms of the flesh” . One cannot be other than what one is .  Nevertheless, when there is a crisis point, a critical decision point, when the Krenken are pressured into challenging their superiors, they speak up, take action, take sides, and are willing to fight and defend themselves.

There are individual differences in character among the Krenken and they have a strong sense of community.  They care for each other, and will sacrifice their own lives to save others.  And this altruism also extends to the humans as circumstances make life increasingly difficult, both for the humans and Krenkens.

Dietrich  reflects:  The Krenken have intellect.  Can such beings have a Soul?

The need for the Krenken to repair the ship and return home becomes urgent. For their survival, the Krenken require a particular amino acid which does not occur on Earth. They are able to tolerate human food, but the Krenkens’ own food supply is dwindling.

Gottfried, the main Krenken electronics technician, repairs and rewires the damaged circuits of the starship. Many of of the Krenken leave, taking their chances on the repaired ship to return to their star system.

Gottfried and Johann choose to stay on Earth and become Christians.
When the plague reaches Eifelheim, Pastor Dietrich sends away those who are still well, to live in the Black Forest until the plague is gone. Fra Joachim, Dietrich’s assistant, will be their pastor, to start a new life. Dietrich remains behind to tend to the sick, and he is helped considerably by the Krenken who are immune to the disease.

The village ceases to exist in 1349.

Modern day:
Conclusion of the story:

Tom organizes all the information he has about Eifelheim. He comes to an extraordinary conclusion: In 1348, a starship crash-landed in the Great Woods of Eifelheim. Pastor Dietrich of the village reaches out to help the aliens, the Krenken. When the starship is repaired, some of the Krenken return to their star system. Some chose to remain on Earth.

Tom reads a story in a German newspaper of an obscure medieval tombstone, in the area of Eifelheim. The tombstone has a carved demon’s face. Could this be a graveyard of a Krenken?

Tom emails the information and his plausible explanation to his friend Anton in Freiburg. And he asks Sharon for her opinion. Sharon is his life partner, and her theory of variable light speeds and interstellar travel had given Tom the clue he needed to identify the Krenken as alien star travelers. Sharon and Anton both encourage Tom to follow up on his intuition.

Tom, and Judy Cao, fly to Freiburg to meet with Anton. Judy, the librarian and narrative historian, has come to know in great detail the story of the Eifelheim villagers and Krenken.

Tom,  Anton, and Judy travel with Monsignor Heinrich Lurm, from the diocese of Freiburg, and a field expert in archeology, to the abandoned site of Eifelheim. It is Judy who finds a partially hidden broken tombstone. There is a carved demon-like face on the stone, and the barely discernible letters “hannes Ste” . It is the grave of
the Krenken Johannes von Sterne.


Quotation at the end of the novel:

“Oh happy posterity who will not experience such abysmal woe and will look upon our testimony as a fable.”   — Petrarch.

Petrarch (1304 – 1374) — eminent Italian scholar and poet, in the 14th-century Italian Renaissance.