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    Review of 1634: THE BALTIC WAR by David Weber (see his website) and Eric Flint (see his website)

    Baen, January 2007

    A bit more than two years after the West Virginia town of Grantsville has been pulled into the middle of the 30 years war in what became Germany, the war wages on. The Americans quickly joined up with Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus against the Spanish and their allies, but France under Richelieu, always anxious to provide a counterweight, joined with Spain, England, and Denmark to offset the high-technology the Americans have brought. Meanwhile, French labs have begun to churn out their own technical advances--owing in part to Grantsville leader Mike Stearns's decision to let most information flow freely in his technological-deterministic certainty that modern technology will bring about democracy.

    Fortunately for the increasingly united Germany being created by Gustavus Adolphus and Stearns, Their nation can tackle each of its opponents individually. In 1634: THE BALTIC WAR, the major requirements are to break the siege of the Baltic ports, free the Grantsville team being held in the Tower of London, and (mainly for the pleasure of the Swedish King) defeat Denmark so totally that it will agree to become part of a new pan-Scandinavian union.

    Readers of David Weber's (see reviews of novels by Weber) Honor Harrington series will recognize the familiar pattern of a technological advance by the goodguys (Grantsville or Manticore) being overwhelming despite an apparently offsetting advance made by the enemy (France or Haven). In this case, the overwhelming advance is Grantsville's navy. No contemporary navy, and no costal fortifications can stand against either the new ironclads, equipped with ten inch guns or even the timberclad battleships. Unfortunately for the French, their breech-loading rifles enabled only a minor raid, eliminating an annoying up-time character.

    The Flint and Weber books in this series seem to have taken an unfortunate direction, with more of the characters lecturing one another, and long contemplative passages where Flint and Weber bring the reader up to date on what's happening. In fact, there isn't a lot of action in this entire 700+ page novel. One can imagine Flint and Weber snickering over which Americanisms they'd have the different down-time characters use, but the entire novel could have used some major pruning--and a lot more concentration on what is happening and why we should care. Rescuing the captive ambassarors from the Tower of London is fine, but really, they were in no particular danger and the rescue provides only personal satisfaction to Stearns and some of the other Grantsville types. If Stearns had gone in with the intent to rescue Cromwell, to launch a more sophisticated version of the Glorious Revolution and take England/Scotland out of the war, this would have made sense and been interesting. As it was, who cares. I found the romance between twenty-year-old Eddie Cantrell and 15-year-old Anne Catherine unromantic and again, thought Stearns's and (in this case) Admiral Simpson's willingness to risk an outbreak of war in newly passified Denmark to preserve Eddie from the consequences of his decisions to be unbelievable. The romance between uptime lady in waiting, Caroline Ann Platzer and downtime Sergeant Thorsten Engler seemed to exist only to allow Princess Kristina to insist that Engler be named 'Count of Narnia.' (I imagined Flint and Weber giggling about this--maybe my sense of humor is just different).

    The brief scenes with painter Pieter Paul Rubens and the Cardinal-Infante Don Fernando have a lot of potential. Here is a character who's looking to the future, prepared to deal with reality with relatively open eyes, and who may become a worthy opponent to Gustavus Adolphus and Stearns in the future. I had hoped that Prince Ulrick of Denmark and his inventor-friend Baldur Norddahl could play similar roles--perhaps becoming national resistance heroes, demonstrating that the capitulation of a king doesn't necessarily result in the defeat of a nation. Unfortunately, this lesson doesn't seem about to be learned.

    One of my problems with this series is that Stearns stands in an ideal position to eliminate the Atlantic slave trade before it really begins. In 1634, slavery was still relatively new, cotton was not king, and a determined effort could have wiped it out. Stearns intends to do this--perhaps that will be the basis of a subsequent novel. For now, it's the ugly secret that no one dare name.

    This 163X Series started powerfully with 1632--a time travel with a difference. Stearns and his allies were intent on preserving the democratic ideals of America and making them work, while simultaneously ending a war that convulsed all of Europe for thirty years, depopulated and decentralized Germany (creating hard feelings the Prussians would later exploit in their creation of the German Empire), and empoverishing Spain. The current novel in the series, 1634: THE BALTIC WAR, shows occasional flashes of the excellence that kicked off the series. Overall, though, I found it a disappointment. Much of the action didn't seem aimed at goals that matter to the reader or to the overall development of a democratic society. Characters spent too much time patting each other on the back and discussing things rather than doing things and showing why they deserved those pats. And the romances never really grabbed me at all.

    See more reviews of novels by David Weber.
    See more reviews of novels by Eric Flint.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 7/29/07

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