Short works

Books : reviews

Michael Flynn.
In the Country of the Blind.
Baen. 1990

rating : 3 : worth reading

I don't usually like conspiracy theory stories, but this one, based on Babbage engines, is just such fun!

Michael Flynn.
The Nanotech Chronicles.
Baen. 1991

rating : 2.5 : great stuff

Several linked short stories about nanotechnology


Werehouse. 1990
Remember'd Kisses. 1988
The bag lady reminds him so of his dead wife.
Soul of the City. 1989
The Washer at the Ford. 1989
The Laughing Clone. 1988
The Blood Upon the Rose. 1991

Michael Flynn.
The Forest of Time and other stories.
Tor. 1997

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 28 August 1998

Many of these stories don't start out explicitly as SF: some might be historical accounts, some mainstream stories. But things gradually get odder... And some of stories are deliberate stylistic exercises. For these reasons, this collection doesn't rank quite as highly, for me, as his earlier Nanotech Chronicles: the stories here are certainly very well written and, in at least one case, extremely moving, but I do like a bit more overt science in my SF.

In the afterword to several of these stories, Flynn acknowledges an idea inspired by Oliver Sacks' (non-fiction) collection The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.


The Forest of Time. 1987
A parallel universe traveller having difficulty getting home lands in a very disunited North America.
Great, Sweet Mother. 1993
The sushi-hating narrator sits on the beach, talking of their lost love Sandy, now in the arms of the sea.
On the High Frontier. 1982
A deliberate using of all the Wild West cliches, transferred to the outer Solar System.
The Common Goal of Nature. 1990
When the aliens are so different from us, why assume they have understood our request the way we meant it?
Grave Reservations. 1988
Tourists visit the New York Reservation.
[I am informed by the author that "Grave Reservations" is not also titled "The Longford Collector", contrary to the claim in The Locus Index to Science Fiction.]
Mammy Morgan Played the Organ; Her Daddy Beat the Drum. 1990
Leo Reismann, skeptical, but with his own reasons for being a ghost hunter, encounters strange evidence in the town's Library
Spark of Genius. 1991
Why is the writer so upset that his latest book is a best-seller?
On the Wings of a Butterfly. 1989
The Conquistadores meet the Incas, under the guidance of a shipwrecked sailor.
The Feeders. 1990
Who are the strange creatures hovering around the WWI battlefields?
Melodies of the Heart. 1994
Dr Paul Wilks meets Mae Holloway, an old woman who keeps hearing bygone songs in her head. Could her problem help with his daughter's illness?

Michael Flynn.
The Wreck of The River of Stars.
Tor. 2003

Michael Flynn.
Tor. 2006

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 21 October 2009

In the present day, Tom is using mathematical methods to investigate historical processes, and discovers a village that has been mysteriously missing since the Middle Ages: theory says it should have been resettled, but it hasn't. And why was it renamed Eifelheim after it was abandoned? Meanwhile his partner Sharon is developing a new theory of fundamental physics. Gradually it turns out that these investigations are interlinked.

In 1348, the Germanic village of Oberhochwald, nervously listening to rumours about the "pest" (Black Death) sweeping through nearby towns, receives a mysterious group of visitors from very far away. Father Dietrich, a student of the most modern methods of logic and science, determines that they are not demons, and cautiously sets about trying to convert them. But disaster is always hovering in the wings.

The "now" part of this was originally published as a short story in 1986. The new "then" part fills out the backstory of what was really going on in Oberhochwald, and forms the majority of the novel. This is a fascinating read. The aliens (for that is of course what they are) are in one sense less alien than the humans, with their very different 14th Century world-view. Flynn very cleverly allows this Mediaeval point of view to emerge gradually: to start with, the highly educated Dietrich seems almost "modern" in his beliefs and outlook, with his rational scientific arguments, and his understanding of machinery. But after a while, it becomes clear that both his axiom base and the scientific material he is using are very different, leading to some startling flights of reason. Both his religion and his weird Mediaeval natural philosophy fully permeate his thinking: "fire atoms are tetrahedral, with many sharp points". The aliens have a more modern understanding of physics, cosmology, and medicine, which is rendered into Dietrich's language and concepts through a translation device; this requires the reader to translate them back into modern English to understand them, although occasionally Dietrich suggests a word of Greek origin to act as a signifier (a clever device that allows the reader to realise that our modern highfalutin terms are often just simple concepts expressed in an obscure elite language). This need for translation leads to great potential for misunderstanding, particularly as the aliens take rather literally some of Dietrich's religious pronouncements. There are several passages where one side explains their concepts to the other, and both sides believe they are communicating and agreeing, but the reader realises they have said two completely different things.

It is interesting thinking about some of the Mediaeval point of view. At one point Dietrich is explaining to one of the aliens why time can't be "pressed":

p214. "Of motions, there are four: change of substance, as when a log becomes ash; change of quality, as when an apple ripens from green to red; change of quantity, as when a body grows or diminishes; and change of place, which we call 'local motion.' Obviously, for time to be 'pressed'---here long, there short---there must be a motion of time. But time is the measure of motion in changeable things and cannot measure itself."

I started off thinking: motion is just change of place, why these other three? Oh, okay: these others are motion in some kind of abstract state space, a more general notion of change with time. But, why these specific state spaces? Could these people have gone on from their discrete and separate spaces of "substance, quality, quantity, place" on to generalise to the concept of abstract space? What was interesting from the book is the reason why, despite a science-grounded curriculum, great scientific promise, and relatively little religious problem, they didn't: the Black Death. (The horrific symptoms are described in graphic detail, and ought to be required reading for anyone hankering after living in "simpler times".) And, of course, these kinds of thoughts lead on to: how much of our current science will look equally quaint, ridiculous, or obscure, a few centuries from now?

This isn't all interesting philosophical discourse (although the bit where a passing William of Ockham uses his razor to prove that the sun goes round the earth, rather than the earth rotating, is fun). There is also a lot of interesting politics, religion, history, "everyday tale of country folk in a Medieval village", and, of course, bubonic plague. This is all woven together into a fascinating tale, made all the more poignant by the looming tragedies waiting for the aliens and for the humans. A sort of Doomsday Book meets "Uncleftish Beholding" meets Dr Mirabilis#717, with aliens. Recommended.

Michael Flynn.
Captive Dreams.
Phoenix Pick. 2012

Fine literary writing meets Science Fiction. A thematic tour-de-force exploring the concept of being human through the eyes of imperfect protagonists struggling with their demons. More than just great SF, these are great stories told with style, wit and sensitivity. Six memorable stories, each independent, but each tangentially touching on the others.


Melodies of the Heart. 1994
Dr Paul Wilks meets Mae Holloway, an old woman who keeps hearing bygone songs in her head. Could her problem help with his daughter's illness?
Captive dreams. 1992
Hopeful monsters. 2012
Places where the roads don't go. 2012
Remember'd Kisses. 1988
The bag lady reminds him so of his dead wife.
Buried hopes. 2012

Michael Flynn.
Tor. 1996

Michael Flynn.
Rogue Star.
Tor. 1998

Michael Flynn.
Tor. 2000

Michael Flynn.
Falling Stars.
Tor. 2001

Michael Flynn.
The January Dancer.
Tor. 2008

Michael Flynn.
Up Jim River.
Tor. 2010

Michael Flynn.
In the Lion's Mouth.
Tor. 2011

Michael Flynn.
On the Razor's Edge.
Tor. 2013

The secret war among the Shadows of the Name is escalating, and there are hints that it is not so secret as the Shadows had thought. The scarred man, Donovan buigh, honored guest and half prisoner, is taken deeper into the Confederation, all the way to Holy Terra herself, to help plan the rebel assault on the Secret City. If he does not soon remember the key information locked inside his fractured mind, his rebel friends may resort to torture to pull it from his subconscious.

Meanwhile, Bridget ban has organized a posse—a pack of Hounds—to go in pursuit of her kidnapped daughter, despite knowing that Ravn Olafsdottr kidnapped the harper precisely to lure Bridget ban in her wake. The Hound, the harper, and the scarred man wind deeper into a web of deceit and treachery certain of only one thing: nothing, absolutely nothing, is what it seems to be.