02 September 2011

Book review: 1632

1632, by Eric Flint. 2000, Baen. Available in print and at the Baen Free Library

The premise behind 1632 and its sequels is that a mining town in West Virginia from the year 2000 is magically swapped with an equal-sized piece of land in Thuringia in 1632. The Americans are dropped in the middle of the Thirty Years' War, during which the Catholic Holy Roman Empire was doing its level best to wipe out the Protestants.

Mike Stearns, a union organizer and UMWA member, organizes a militia to defend their town and the neighboring towns. Their personal gun collections are vastly superior to the arquebuses of the 17th century, so they have quick, decisive victories, until they get embroiled in the greater conflict surrounding them.

Flint goes into a good bit of detail about how the town residents can scale their existing level of technology--electricity, internal combustion engines, etc--down to something more sustainable with the resources available to them in the mid-17th century. He also goes into a good bit of detail about the military history and manouevres.

There's a very strong "Wooo! USA!" jingoism to the book, but it's a leftish sort of jingoism, focused on equality, freedom of religion, and worker's rights. From someone of Flint's background (former labor organizer and member of the Socialist Workers' Party), that's not too surprising.

There were several not-so-subtle digs at Americans, including remarks from 1632-era characters like "Americans don't know how to cook without a ton of meat," and "Why do they think walking everywhere is such a horrible thing?" which I found rather apt. He also takes a few digs at institutionalized sexism.

The best marksman in town is a high school senior named Julie. Before they got bamfed back to the 17th century, she was training for the Olympic biathlon qualification. She takes her shiny rifle and joins a party to act as a sniper. Mike tells her it's OK if she can't bring herself to shoot people, and that even in the military, they let you drop out of sniping without prejudice. She ignores him and sets up her targets.
Finally, an expression came to her young, almost angelic face. But Mike couldn't quite interpret it. Sarcasm? No, it was more like whimsy; or maybe, wry amusement.

"Did Uncle Frank ever tell you the story," she asked, "about the first time I went deer hunting? How I cried like a baby after I shot my first buck?"

Mike nodded. Julie's expression grew very wry.

"You know why? The deer was so pretty. And it had never done me any harm." Julie cocked her head toward her observer, a girl no older than she. Another recent high-school graduate. Slender, where Julie was not, but otherwise—peas from a pod.

"Hey, Karen! Those guys look pretty to you?"

Karen shifted her gum into a corner of her mouth. "Nope. Ugly bastards. Mean looking, too. Look more like wild dogs than cute little deer."

Julie bared her teeth. The smile was far more savage than anything belonging on the face of an eighteen-year-old, male or female. "That's what I thought. Hey, Karen! Watcha think they'll do—to you and me, I mean—if they get their hands on us?"

Karen was back to chewing her gum. Her words came out in a semimumble. "Don't want to think about it, girl. But I'll tell you one thing. Won't be trying to sweet-talk us into the backseat of a car. Not likely."

The smile left Julie's face; but, if anything, the sense of whimsy was even stronger in her eyes. She gave Mike a level gaze.
"That's the whole problem with allowing men into combat," she said solemnly. "You guys are just too emotional about the whole thing."

Overall, I enjoyed the book, even though I had some quibbles with the German. ("Thank God" is three words in German, not two, and it's not "Danke Gott," but "Gott sei Dank." Threw me out of the story both times it came up. This is not likely to be a problem for most readers, however.) There were some stylistic quirks that bothered me, but not enough to make me stop reading. If you like alternate history and military fiction, with some focus on the characters, you might like this. (And it's available free online, so giving the first few chapters a go won't cost you anything beyond your usual internet fee.)


Anonymous said...

I should really give this book another shot. I think the first time the writing style bothered me a little, plus I'm just not that big on the 17th century.

DFS said...

Missed this earlier, but a pertinent bit of history perhaps: Lyudmila Pavlichenko, deadliest female sniper of WWII with 309 official kills.

My favorite part of her bio is that she was feted as a hero on a tour of the U.S. and Canada just after the war. At that point we hadn't quite decided they were the bad guys.