Review of 1635: THE EASTERN FRONT by Eric Flint
Baen, October 2010
Three years after the city of Grantville, West Virginia was mysteriously transported to the middle of Germany during the 30 years war, the Americans have played a powerful role in Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus's successes (and survival). Austria has been humbled and now licks her wounds, looking for a chance at revenge. The French, under Richlieu are reluctant to renew hostilities, but Gustavus has enemies available. Specifically, Brandenberg and Saxony have rebelled. Gustavus's plans go beyond those German principalities, though. He intends to conquer Poland as well.
After three years of warfare, the weapons, vehicles and tools that the Americans brought back with them have been exhausted. But the ideas and technologies they introduced to early 17th century Europe continue to spread. Rumor has it that the Turks have adopted a crash technology program. Certainly the French did, with their development of a primitive but effective breech-loading rifle--something not readily available even to the Americans and their allies. Ideas of religious liberty and freedom have also spread. In particular, the Committies of Correspondence promote democracy everywhere, even (perhaps especially) in areas where they are unwelcome.
Further Swedish conquests certainly appear to offer potential for more liberty, more democracy, a faster spread of the kind of Enlightenment civilization the Grantville Americans have attempted to bring to Europe. But former union leader and now general Mike Stearns knows that democracy is tough to impose by force and that democracy remains threatened even in the "United States of Europe" (which encompasses most of what is now Germany).
Author Eric Flint (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Flint) continues the series he began with 1632. This book starts slowly, with long scenes involving people talking to one another, explaining things that they probably should already know, admiring what beautiful houses they now own, and generally going on with lives that may be highly satisfactory but don't really interest me. The story picks up when Flint finally throws us into the war with easy conquests of Saxony and Brandenburg, but increasing problems in Poland.
In the sub-genre of time-travel technology-related stories, the 1632 series does an excellent job dealing both with the benefits and limitations of late 20th century technology in the 17th century context. Ultimately, it isn't the miracle weapon that defines history, it's the people and their ideas. Flint does a good job discussing the spread of Enlightenment-era ideas such as freedom of religion and democracy, together with a recognition of the evils of slavery and serfdom, and the horrors of anti-Semitism. Intriguingly, Flint's heroes are not great political geniuses (although Stearns is moving in that direction) but ordinary people thrown into unusual circumstances and forced to cope. For the most part, even his villains are not really bad people (although many of them are rather stupid). Rather, they see themselves as people forced to take extreme measures to do the right thing. The group of French Hugonauts intent on framing France for assassinations to create a war they believe will destroy Richlieu are a great example.
After several books written by Flint with co-authors, it's interesting to see Flint taking a solo effort. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue-heavy nothing happening but talking heads style that Flint colaborator Virginia DeMarce brought to the series seems to have stuck. The first half of this book could have been trimmed dramatically without losing any story value and with major improvements to readability. 1635: THE EASTERN FRONT has some thought-provoking ideas, and it represents what I think is a conscious (and welcome) break from the style of writing that puts a superhuman protagonist through her paces. I just wish Flint's editors pushed him harder to get to the story.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to email@example.com. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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