Friday, August 8, 2014

Medieval Science Fiction

The collection of essays is supposed to come out this month from Oxford University Press. Meanwhile, themes are being presented at history conferences.

The motto of the blog Beoshewulf is Þæt wæs god blog!, a reference to a line from Beowulf (Þæt wæs god cyning!)

The TOFian contribution to the anthology begins thusly:

I have been asked to contribute a few words about how I came to write Eifelheim, a science fiction novel in which aliens are marooned in the Black Forest in the fourteenth century. Although I have always had an interest in history – I had the good fortune to take my freshman survey course from John Lukacs – my training was in mathematics and the sciences, and my professional practice has been in statistics. My interest in the Middle Ages, and specifically in the science of the Middle Ages, actually stems from my experience in writing Eifelheim and the paradoxical fact that it was easier to write about the alien Krenken than about the fourteenth century Germans.
Some people, it seems, are more alien than others.
One question in this volume is whether medieval culture and the SF genre intersect. At first glance, it would appear that they do not. First, the medieval world lies in the past and SF deals with the future. Second, SF (as distinct from fantasy) deals with the impact of speculative science on the lives of human beings and, according to conventional wisdom, there was no science in the Middle Ages. Third, when the medieval past does appear in SF, it provides only a cardboard stage set and caricatures the past without illuminating it. Therefore, SF and the medieval world do not properly intersect.
On the other hand, we find such novels as Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade (1960), Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book (1993), Richard Garfinkle’s Celestial Matters (1996) and my own Eifelheim (2006), as well as short fiction like Sean McMullen’s ‘Tower of Wings’ (2001). So clearly there is an intersection.
My own response is... 


  1. I still can't find the book on OUP's website. Very odd. I 'm looking forward to eventually reading it.

    I was quite struck by my 1st SF (not fantasy) con last weekend at how much medieval stuff showed up in the art & vendor displays. Strangely, I've always thought the Lady of the Lake having sleeves of samite implied she was actually wearing clothes under the water, but this is apparently not a universal reading....



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