Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Review: 1632 by Eric Flint

I've never been much interested in alternate history series, but when I found one set in one of my favourite periods - the setting of the 30 year war - I could not help but give it a chance. Unfortunately, to put it bluntly, I was disappointed both by the quality of the story and the depiction of the historical era.

The novel tells the story of a small US township that is automagically transported back in time and place in the middle of the Thirty Year War in Germany. The Americans take this major cataclysm rather calmly (no crying over lost loves or other emotional outbreaks) and almost immediately start using their phenomenal skills to mold a new United States for themselves. Apparently, every single person in this township happened to own modern weaponry and cartloads of ammunition and one Vietnam veteran even had an M60 stored away for such an occasion. Even cheerleaders turn out to be expert marksmen who murder the soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire with wild abandon.

The characters posing as inhabitants of the area that the Americans decide to conquer as their own are all very much taken by the American way of life and immediately forget all about their religious beliefs, ethics and values. As one reviewer at Amazon said, "17th century battlehardened mercenaries, haughty nobility and ignorant peasants alike renounce their entire belief system in days once introduced to ice-cream, cute cheerleaders and American politics."

The character of Gustavus Adolphus is very two-dimensional and he depicted as short-tempered. Whereas this depiction was true to young Gustavus Adolphus, he was no longer that way in around 1632 according to my readings. High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna is shown accompanying the King during his campaign, where in real life the two men corresponded mainly through letters - the High Chancellor being preoccupied with the running of the empire rather than the war.

One of the most boring aspects of the novel was the fact that it focussed very much on the political discussions of the time travellers, who discuss endlessly the various facets of their production facilities etc. As an history enthusiast, I would have liked to see more focus on the period and the world of the early 17th century, but - given the freedom that the author takes with the values and mores of the characters of the time - perhaps it is better that he did not attempt to describe the period too much. Additionally, the time travellers (or time displacementees) happily kill the "natives" with no remorse at all - and it seems that the author justifies this by the fact that the mercenaries of that time were ruthless to begin with. And forgets that he's describing his heroes as even worse kind of murderers - people who kill their enemies in vast hordes just because they can, with little or no mercy.

Overall, this was a disappointing and rather boring read. I've been told that the sequels in the series are somewhat better, but it remains to be seen when I'll get around to giving them a chance.