Author(s): David Weber, Eric Flint
Series: Assiti Shards #1
Published by Bean on 01/01/2000
Genres: Science Fiction, Alternate History
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2000 Things are going OK in Grantville, West Virginia, and everybody attending the wedding of Mike Stearn's sister (including the entire local chapter of the United Mine Workers of America, which Mike leads) is having a good time.
1632: And in northern Germany things couldn't get much worse. Famine. Disease. Religous war laying waste the cities. Only the aristocrats remained relatively unscathed; for the peasants, death was a mercy.
THEN, EVERYTHING CHANGED....
When the dust settles, Mike leads a group of armed miners to find out what happened and finds the road into town is cut, as with a sword. On the other side, a scene out of Hell: a man nailed to a farmhouse door, his wife and daughter attacked by men in steel vests. Faced with this, Mike and his friends don't have to ask who to shoot. At that moment Freedom and Justice, American style, are introduced to the middle of the Thirty Years' War.
I have said it before and I will say it again, Eric Flint is the most upbeat sci-fi writer I have come across. His good guys are pure, his bad guys are evil and deserve what they get, and you can see in his writing how much joy he has in telling the story. He is the literary equivalent of methamphetamine, of course without the life crushing physical addiction.
1632 is the first in a series about a small town in West Virginia that has been torn from its place and time and dropped into southern Germany in 1632, hence the name. For historians this time period has meaning but it is an unusual choice because it is not one of the flashy, popular moments in history. The story is set in the midst of the Thirty Years War where Catholic run nations were fighting against those ruled by Protestants. The only popularly well-known event from this point in history was the Spanish Inquisition, although this was only one of the inquisitions that happened during this time.
The town / time travel plot isn’t new and strongly reminds me of Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Sterling. While it doesn’t live up to Sterling’s work it has some interesting points and overall is not a bad out of time or alternate history book.
The characters in are both the strong suit and the draw back. Flint makes protagonists that are easy to like and the reader is always on their side. That being said Flint also tends to fall on cookie cutter style characterization and this book is no exception. Nearly every character you meet falls into some kind of classic stereotype as if Flint was checking off a list. That isn’t to say they are uninteresting, stereotypes get that way for a reason, and most of the characters are enjoyable to follow if not unique or inventive.
Flint has always been good at writing combat and battles and this is one of the strong points of the book. The action is clear and never confusing, a problem I have a lot of action oriented books. Also, the history itself is pretty good. I have not studied the period closely but what I know of the Thirty Years War falls in line with Flints work, although Flint has a little too much love for Gustavus Adolphus as both a figure from history and a character. And more importantly the alternate history is also good. I buy the places Flint takes the story as the residents of Grantville precede to stop all over history. There weren’t very many weird turns where events take an overly artificial jump.
There were a few issues with the book however. The romance that happens between several of the characters comes off as forced and unbelievable. Sometimes authors like for their characters to pair off but never find a way to do it successfully, and I feel that is what happened with much of the love connections here. Character reactions and leaps from friendliness to match making seemed more wish fulfillment for the author then good story telling.
The pacing also has some issues. Flint has researched this time period thoroughly and unfortunately felt the need to pass as much of that knowledge on as he could. There are whole chapters that are set aside for laying out historical context and the political situation with little or no narrative. I love a good history book, but not shoved in between the pages of my fiction. When coupled with the large number of characters and factions and the stories constant jumping from one group to another is distracting. As the reader I enjoyed following the main characters and the town itself and whole chapters away from them really slowed the pace of the book. It was clear Flint wanted to let the reader connect with some of the groups outside of Grantville but the rotating focus came off as annoying.
Of course every book has its problems and I have yet to read the perfect story, so to be clear even with those problems I still completely enjoyed 1632. This is a great start to the series and there is a lot of room for subsequent titles to go. If you like alternate history then this is a book I would suggest.