Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Michael F. Flynn and the Middle Ages

One of the questions thrown up by God's Philosophers is why no one did the work of Galileo in the fourteenth century. After all, John Buridan and Nicole Oresme had already cleared most of the ground. About the only important material that Galileo had that they lacked was the conic geometry of Apollonius of Perga. In the book, I suggest that the Black Death might have had a deleterious effect on medieval natural philosophy and delayed for almost two centuries the next series of significant advances.

Michael F. Flynn, the renowned science fiction writer, decided to ask what might have happened if Buridan had enjoyed just one more insight and realised how he could experimentally verify his ideas. The result was Questiones super Caelo et Mundo, an award-winning short story published in ANALOG Magazine in 2007 about a visit to Buridan, Oresme and the young Albert of Saxony in Paris from the Oxford natural philosopher William of Heytesbury. All the characters will be familiar to readers of God's Philosophers. Flynn is best known for 'hard' (that is, realistic) science fiction and in this spirit, he has ensured that his story, although fiction, avoids anachronism. The result is one of the most entertaining reads I have come across in a very long time. Since it is now available online, it is well worth an hour of anyone's time. And if you do enjoy it, you should also check out Flynn's novels, especially Eifelheim, which also deals with issues from the Middle Ages.

2 comments:

Jim S. said...

Michael Flynn is responsible for me not getting enough done on my dissertation.

Mike Flynn said...

My apologies, Mr. S.