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1634: The Baltic War Mass Market Paperback – 30 Oct 2008
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About the Author
David Weber is author of the "New York Times" best-selling Honor Harrington series as well as "In Fury Born" and other popular novels. With Steve White, he is the author of "Insurrection," "Crusade," "In Death Ground," and the "New York Times" best seller "The Shiva Option," all novels based on his "Starfire" SF strategy game. Eric Flint's impressive first novel, "Mother of Demons" (Baen), was selected by "SF Chronicle" as one of the best novels of 1997. With David Drake he has written six popular novels in the Belisarius series, including the new novel "The Dance of Time," and with David Weber collaborated on "1633," a novel in the Ring of Fire series, and on "Crown of Slaves," a best of the year pick by "Publishers Weekly." Flint received his masters degree in history from UCLA and was for many years a labor union activist. He lives in East Chicago, IL, with his wife and is working on more books in the best-selling Ring ofFire series.
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(The "Ring of Fire" is how the inhabitants of Grantville described the event which brought their town back 370 years in time and a few thousand miles in space. The Assiti were the extraterrestial race whose thoughtless actions, described in the first book as akin to "criminal negligence," caused that event, though no human ever learns this.)
The books in this series differ very greatly in their style and focus, and I gather I am not the only reader who liked some of them very much more than others. Five of the six books to date which I did particularly enjoy and can recommend to others, which include this one, are the ones which Eric Flint himself, in the afterword to "The Saxon Uprising" describes as the main line or spinal cord of the series.and can be read in sequence to give you an overall view of the history of the very different seventeenth century which Grantville's arrival in Germany in 1631 creates in the stories. They are:
1632 (Ring of Fire)
This book, "The Baltic War"
"1635: The Eastern Front"
1636 : The Saxon Uprising (Ring of Fire)
A fuller list of novels in the series to date, in chronological order, is:
3) 1634: The Galileo Affair
4) 1634: The Baltic War
5) 1634: The Bavarian Crisis
6) 1634: The Ram rebellion
7) 1635: The Dreeson Incident
8) 1635 The Cannon Law
9) 1635: The Eastern Front
10) 1635: The Papal Stakes
11) 1636: The Saxon uprising
12) 1636: The Kremlin Games
13) 1636: Seas of Fortune
14) 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies (Due for publication June 2014)
15) 1636: The Devil's Opera (Due for publication September 2014)
16) 1636: The Viennese Walz (Due for publication November 2014)
I've counted "The Ram rebellion" in this list: Eric Flint himself describes it as "an oddball volume which has some of the characteristics of an anthology and some of the characteristics of a novel."
Incidentally, the timelies of this series are consistent but potentially confusing to the reader with an interest in the detail. The date at the start of each book indicates when the MAIN ACTION of the book takes place, NOT when it starts. For example, we are told on the first page of this book that it starts in December 1633, although most of the action does indeed take place in 1634.
When I originally read the first book, 1632, I assumed that Grantville had arrived in Germany in the title year. I nearly tore my hair out trying to make sense of the timeline when reading "1636: The Kremlin Games" which has its main action in 1636 but also has a prologue set in October 1631. I wondered at first if this was Russia having a different calendar, this time a year out, but eventually realised that the title of the first book does not refer to the date Grantville actually arrived in the 17th Century, which if you read it extremely carefully appears to be 1631, but to the date when the climax of the action takes place.
Incidentally "The Kremlin Games" was the sixth book in this series , after the "spinal column" five, which I can recommend.
There are a number of short story/novella collections set in this alternative 17th century including "Ring of Fire," "1635: The Tangled Web" and several volumes in the "Grantville Gazette" series.
Flint has also written a book called Time Spike, in which a second similar event hits the 21st century world which Grantville has left behind a few years later and pulls a maximum-security prison into another time. That book is sometimes listed as part of the "Ring of Fire" series, which is not entirely unreasonable because the people who are investigating that disappearance immediately recognise it as a similar event to whatever caused the disappearance from modern times of Grantville. However, "Time Spike" does not impinge on Grantville's 17th century.
"1634: The Baltic War" begins about two and a half years after the arrival of Grantville in 17th century Germany, at a point when the inhabitants of Grantville have founded a new and reasonably democratic "United States of Europe" (USE) covering most of modern Germany with the aid of an alliance with with the Swedish King, Gustavus Adolphus. The Grantville leader, Mike Stearns, has become Prime Minister of the USE.
All the great powers of Europe have united in the League of Ostend to try to crush the USE. Copies of history books have been stolen from Grantville's libraries by agents of most of the powers of Europe, which promptly try to beat to the draw those who in our history would have brought them down: for example as the book opens Oliver Cromwell is locked up in the Tower of London as neither Charles I or the Earl of Strafford are particularly keen on letting him get into the position to cut their heads off.
Meanwhile Admiral Simpson, a former US Navy officer and industrialist who caused MIke Stearns some grief as a rival for the leadership of Grantville in the first book, becomes one of the heroes of this one. Mike has persuaded Simpson to build and lead a navy for the USE, and that Navy is preparing to engage the enemy armada blockading the USE and Sweden's Baltic ports ...
I did enjoy this book, which has some good humour and some clever ideas. The quality of the historical reseach and imagination in this series is extremely patchy, excellent in places and rather poor in others. There are interesting, nuanced and well informed sketches of some figures in history, such as Rubens, the Earl of Strafford, and Gustavas Adolphus. But the depictions of some other historical figures are childish cliches. Charles I of England, who admittedly wasn't the most brilliant man who ever lived, is made out to be a far bigger idiot in this book than he ever was in life, and his wife Queen Henrietta Maria is presented still more negatively, so much so as to irritate me despite the fact that I am certainly not part of her fan club. Indeed, the only other book in which I have ever read such an oversimplified hostile view of Charles the First combined with such an oversimplified positive view of Oliver Cromwell was the Ladybird biography of the latter, "Oliver Cromwell (An Adventure From History A Ladybird Book, Series 561)".
Overall, however, "1634: The Baltic War" is exciting, well throught through, and entertaining.
If you enjoy this story of a modern community sent back many years in time, you might also enjoy S.M. Stirling's Nantucket trilogy in which that island is sent much further back by a similar event. The Nantucket trilogy consists of:
Island in the Sea of Time
Against the Tide of Years (Nantucket)
On the Oceans of Eternity (Nantucket).
I hugely enjoyed 1632 as a book; it was a fun, rah-rah Americans-travel-back-in-time to rip things up romp through alternate history. By this book, however, the premise of the setting has stretched to breaking point. The idea that 3000 people with technology from today could - in two years accelerate progress that took 250 years in reality is - to put it mildly - utterly ludicrous. Quite apart from the technological difficulties (solved every time thanks to Grantville essentially possessing a super-expert for every pertinent job), the societal difficulties would be insurmountable. I would recommend anyone who thinks otherwise, to volunteer for some down-to-earth aid work in Africa or Asia.
Unfortunately, even if one suspends disbelief, the book fails to impress. Both Weber and Flint tend to write a particular type of story, and the pattern (outnumbered but technologically superior forces defeating surprisingly competent leaders for an incompetent government) will be quite familiar to any reader of Weber. This time, the formula fails.
The story is split up into multiple sub-plots and a majority of the 1000 pages in the book is spent on characters lecturing one another and contemplation of the situation in order to bring the reader up to date on the "history" of the book. There are lots of passages where the "down-timers" use "amusing" Americanisms (clearly highlighted, so that the reader knows it). After several hundreds of pages of this, however, the Americanisms get old - and it would be more interesting to be told why we should care about the actions of the characters, than yet another passage demonstrating the impressive historical research of the authors.
The action in the Tower of London storyline is fine, but there is never any feeling that the protagonists are in any real danger, and for a book that revolves much around the political, the motives of Stearns are surprisingly selfish. The romantic Danish storyline contained no romance and the willingness of supposedly political master-mind Stearns and Admiral Simpson to precipitate a major political crisis to save Eddie Cantrell is just unbelievable. The other romantic story-line in the book seemed to exist solely to make a Narnia joke. The most interesting storylines, in fact, are the ones involving non-Grantville characters.
Much of that time, unfortunately, spent contemplating how brilliant the Grantville characters are. This returns to a common weakness in much of Flint's writings were the "good" guys can do no wrong while the "bad" guys are either incompetent or intensely admire the "good" guys. This becomes particularly jarring in the "good" guys utilization of the Brownshirt-like Committee of Correspondence.
This book is essentially the conclusion of 1633; and to its credit it ties up most of the loose end from that story. Sadly, the most interesting story lines in 1634 are the one's that are left open-ended: the future of Oliver Cromwell and Turenne are left for future books in the series. While the story contains occasional flashes of the brilliance that made 1632 an interesting read and 1633 tolerable, 1634 book is a disappointing addition to the series.
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