1632, by Eric Flint

Prior to Googling him, price I didn’t know anything about Eric Flint, but forced to guess, I would have said that he has a working-class background/family but perhaps a degree in history at some point. I was right; apparently he has a master’s degree in West African History, worked as a machinist among other things, and has been involved in union and other left-wing politics for a very long time. He’s written a lot of books, which Wikipedia describes as alternate history, fantasy, and humorous fantasy; he’s also a frequent collaborator, editor, and co-editor for various things for Baen; on top of that, the Baen Free Library was his idea. 1632 is one of the free books available on that site; it’s also available through Daily Lit, complete in 222 parts. Since we all know I’m a fan of Free (Legal) Books on the Internet, I approve.

1632 answers the age-old question: what if a late-20th-century West Virginia mining town got transported through time and dumped back to the seventeenth century during the Thirty Years’ War? (Hey, I was wondering. Weren’t you?) The event, referred to as the “Ring of Fire”, dumps Grantville, West Virginia, on a Sunday (right after Rita Stearns’ and Tom Simpson’s wedding) into the southwestern corner of Thuringia (currently a province of Germany); apparently the nearest standard town is Jena. Mike Stearns, Rita’s brother and the highest-ranked union worker in the mine (as well as a generally popular guy), somehow gets elected head of the whole mess, and then they have to determine what to do — isolation? How long will their electricity and other industries work? Will they have enough food to last the winter? And what about Count Tilly and the war that’s threatening to destroy most of Germany?

The first portion of this book sort of reads like AFL-CIO propaganda. I don’t have anything against the AFL-CIO — after all, I do like my weekends and if one reads about the horrors of coal mining too much, one will most likely agree with their need for some sort of advocacy group — but it does make Mr. Flint’s political biases fairly obvious. Of course, the entire rest of the book, which includes screeds against nobility and for all that America really stands for (personal freedom, equality, whatnot), also make his political biases obvious. That having been said, I’m certain that authors are capable of writing books regarding political beliefs that aren’t their own, but Wikipedia tells me that I’m correct in assuming they’re his beliefs.

Anyway, the whole book isn’t like that. It’s more about three basic threads, from the most personal to the least. The most personal thread is the romantic one; there are several different couples who fall in varying kinds of love over the course of the book. The primary one is Mike and Rebecca; their relationship is definitely about the personal, but it also represents a larger idea of unity. Oddly, Mr. Flint definitely espouses a love-at-first-sight sort of idea; it happens with more than one couple. I say that both as a cynic (I knew my fiance for over six years before we started dating) and a reader of romance novels.

A second thread is survival: the survival of the city, primarily. The residents of Grantville have to figure out what their resources are, and how best to use them. There’s a lot of good ol’ Yankee ingenuity going on in the book; they even figure out how they can (hopefully) get a power plant to run based on nineteenth-century technology. The third thread is the greater world; there’s a good deal of description of battles in the book. The King of Sweden, Gustav II Adolf, was one of the European military leaders of the time, and he plays an important role in this book. If one doesn’t know very much about seventeenth-century military tactics and battles during the Thirty Years’ War, one will afterwards. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily boring; I found myself skimming just a little bit, but out of such a long book, the fact that I skimmed through perhaps one battle (and I’m not a military buff) doesn’t seem that bad.

Although it’s a problem book in many ways (how can we survive?), Mr. Flint included enough of the personal to make this a very engaging book. I liked the characters a lot, from Mike Stearns and his girlfriend/wife Rebecca (definitely a strong, fascinating woman) to Julie Sims and even the historical personages, like the aforementioned King Gustav and Alexander Mackay. My favorite character, though, was Melissa Mailey, a former ’60s civil rights activist turned schoolteacher. Her personal journey was definitely interesting. In any case, I’d definitely recommend this book. It’s got a little bit of everything — romance, humor, adventure, politics, and idealism. 4.5/5 stars.

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