Friday, September 21, 2007

De Revolutione scientarum in 'media tempestas' by Michael F. Flynn

Michael Flynn's novella (the title of which means, Concerning the Scientific Revolution of the Middle Ages) appeared in the July/August edition of the magazine Analog Science Fiction and Fact. By the kind auspices of the author, I've been able to read it and can only say it has been a long time since I enjoyed anything more.

Flynn is a noted science fiction author and shares my passion for the Middle Ages. His story is set in Paris during the late 1430s where John Buridan is the rector of the university. He has two precocious students - Nicole Oresme and Albert of Saxony. Of these seminal figures, historians know very little beyond the basic events of their lives and their highly technical works. Flynn fills in the details of their appearances and personalities, taking his lead from the fact that the three came from Picardy, Normany and Germany respectively. One day, William of Heytesbury, an Englishman and one of the Merton Calculators, comes to visit and the four of them decide to carry out Galileo's experiments on falling weights.

Two things made this a story come alive for me. The first is Flynn's skill as a writer. He uses the present tense throughout to convey a sense of immediacy and mines the humour inherent in the relationship between Buridan's two students. To some extent, any decent author could have done this, but Flynn's other achievement is nearly miraculous - he manages to transport the scientific revolution to the fourteenth century with almost no sense of anachronism. He can do this because he knows the minds of his protagonists and understands medieval natural philosophy. The anachronisms that remain are entirely deliberate and fashioned into a series of in-jokes. In comparison, I found The Name of the Rose deeply unsatisfying because Umberto Eco had no comprehension of medieval life and his main character was simply a cipher for the twentieth century vision of the Middle Ages. Flynn knows his stuff and so his own rewriting of history is far more convincing.

Thus, his novella is probably the best entry point to medieval natural philosophy I have read. It is also enormous fun and heartily recommended.

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.


Bjørn Are said...


I e-booked it and gone quickly through. The last part was clever -I didn't know you used Flynn as pseudonym.

The funny thing is that a few months ago I used this disputation method in a fairly successfull innovation workshop in the telecom business, praising Aquinas on the way.

Now it remains to bee seen if Mr. Dawkins is fond of SF.

Bjørn Are said...

ehr... went quickly through;-)

Bjørn Are said...

See also my comment at [url][/url]