by Eric Flint
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
It is difficult, if not impossible, to review Eric Flint's 1632 without referring to S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time and sequels. As with the Stirling novels, Flint takes a large piece of American real estate and sends it back in time. While Stirling opted to send Nantucket back to a prehistoric period, Flint has opted to send his characters back only as far as the Thirty Years' War. Another major difference is his choice of characters.
The town of Grantville, West Virginia is an unlikely setting for a science fiction novel. Most science fiction authors who have played with time dispersal focus their novels on universities or laboratories or other places which provide them with intellectuals who can discover what their situation is and act accordingly. Even the recent Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove collaboration, Household Gods, focuses on an attorney, although one without much apparent education outside her field. The time travelers in 1632 are mostly coal miners and others from a definitely blue collar background. Flint's characters, led by Michael Stearns, the former head of the local United Mine Workers of America chapter, demonstrate that they are as able to live in a strange time as any other science fiction characters.
Flint uses multiple viewpoints, presenting both the displaced Americans and the indigenous Europeans in equal measure and with equal care. Although the Americans have the benefit of an extra three-and-a-half centuries of history and technology to draw on, Flint makes it clear that much of that technology is a nonrenewable resource. Furthermore, the Europeans have direct knowledge of the period and events that the Americans can only learn from books.
One of Flint's shortcomings is the complexity of many of the relationships, mostly historical, but also some of the fictional ones. It is not always immediately clear how characters relate to each other or whose sides they are on, especially when new characters are introduced, which frequently occurs en masse. Eventually, these relationships do straighten out by the simple expedience of determining who is aligned with Stearns and the other Grantvillians and who is opposed to them.
While 1632 could easily have become a war story, Flint is always careful to return the story to his characters, providing a focus for the reader and also presenting his workers in the best possible light. The Grantvillians are not monolithic in their approach to the situation, but they are able to come to consensus opinions through debate. Furthermore, they bring a post-Viet Nam loathing of actual war and battle to their situation. At the same time, they are willing to resort to violence when necessary and have the skills they need in the characters of Viet Nam war veterans and characters who are skilled in hunting.
At times Flint's story moves a little slowly, and he takes his time setting up the first meeting between the Grantvillians and the forces who will eventually become their allies. However, this leisurely plotting is necessary because it allows Flint to create the necessary situation and the characters who drive the remainder of the story.
Flint has apparently agreed to publish more books set in the aftermath of 1632, which will allow his characters to branch out and explore/conquer the world outside of Thuringia. Given the characters Flint has already created, it will be interesting to see their use of market forces and social ideas in their conquest rather than force of arms.
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