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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 December 2002
Alternate history novels have been around for quite awhile, but most of them focus on the difference a single individual or a single decision will make. This book instead looks at what would happen if an entire town is transported back to the middle of 17th century Germany, during the middle of the Thirty Years War.
The town in question is a quiet West Virginia town of about 3,000 which at one point subsisted on proceeds of its coal mine, now shut down, but which has left the legacy of a great number of the town's adult men being UMWA union members. When plopped down in Germany, the union's leader, Mike Stearn, effectively takes charge and begins the process of not only turning the town into a self-sufficient entity but also melding it into a major player into the politics of day.
The good things about this work are its intense descriptions of the battle techniques and weapons of the day and what a difference a little bit of modern firepower can make, its obviously well researched look at the politics and religious battles of the Europe of that age, an interesting look at the position of the Jews within this society, and its easy reading style.
On the negative side, characterization, while adequate, is not very deep for anyone. The motif of 'love at first sight' is way overused. How the town makes the transition from 20th century technology to a stripped down mix of 18th and 19th century level is not covered in enough detail to make it convincing, which is a shame as this could have been one of the most interesting aspects of this novel. The ready acceptance by the German peasants of not only the technological marvels but also the concepts embodied by the Bill of Rights strained my suspension of disbelief mightily, even though it made an excellent theme for the novel. And finally the scene where the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, comes galloping on horseback to the rescue of the town's schoolchildren came across as both melodramatic and unnecessary.
Still, like many novels that occupy this sub-genre, it all makes for a good, fun read, with an interesting look at the history and people of that time.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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on 24 November 2015
A concept I enjoyed and a satisfactory read. Eric Flint has done his historic homework; I'm very pleased to see Gustav Adolph centre stage. But Mr Flint has a very wide canvas to paint. I warmed to some characters such as Rebecca and Julie as well as to James the doctor and Alex, but several seemed a little fleeting. But it's very difficult for a writer to keep track of so many characters when describing a whole new world.

I found the writing without pace in places; the author explained things and then went on to describe them. I wish he hadn't, but let us be surprised and a little worried instead. Despite the bloodshed and brutal environment of the Thirty Years' War, this is an upbeat gung-ho story where the 'good guys' win at everything. It doesn't detract from the overall idea, but it saps narrative tension.

The author manages to herd it all together competently. Read it for the concept.
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on 13 January 2016
The first in Flint's 'Ring of Fire' series and possibly the best? 1632 begins Flint's enjoyable romp through European history - with a twist. Being familiar with this period certainly helps, but be prepared for a new view of the main historical characters. I've just purged my bookshelves and this is one of the series I replaced with Kindle versions as I reread them about once a year - speed reading is expensive.
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on 23 September 2017
Imagine The Walking Dead with a dollop of history and a happy ending. Great fun to read and I learned a lot. Even brought the odd tear to my cynical middle aged eyes. Highly recommended.
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on 10 July 2017
I love stories about time and this is a great example. I won't go into the premise but the characters, details and subplots all intertwine wonderfully. I enjoyed reading this and always looked forward to opening my phone up on the tube to and from work. I'm definitely going to read the rest
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on 26 August 2013
Excellent alternative history. A bit far fetched but gripping and quite realistic in parts. Will certainly look for more of this series
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HALL OF FAMEon 23 November 2002
The premise of "1632" has potential. In this work of alternative history by Eric Flint, a circular area of West Virginia six miles in diameter, and including the town of Grantville (pop. 3,000 or so), is suddenly transported from its place in the 20th century to a parallel universe in the year 1632 AD, and dropped intact into an identically shaped hole in the landscape of the German principality of Thuringia - right in the middle of that then-ongoing carnage called the Thirty Years War. Since the Americans are now left to their own resources without the ability to "call home" for help, this could've been an off-beat and gripping survival story had it been developed properly. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and it just came out being ridiculous.
In an Author's Afterword, Flint says that "1632" is a "sunny book". That's the problem. For our castaways, there are no clouds in the sky, no matter what the situation. First of all, the collective consternation of the citizens over losing their place in the modern present was no greater than if they'd been stranded in Newark after having missed a plane. I mean, where were the cries of outrage as the trips to see the grandkids in California, the vacations to DisneyWorld, the opportunity to see "I Love Lucy" reruns, and the 401k retirement plans, are all lost forever? Rather, our square-jawed and unrelentingly self-righteous American heroes spend their time rescuing damsels-in-distress from the marauding mercenary bands of the period, and otherwise imposing civil order and the U.S. federal political structure on a world in serious disarray. Teddy Roosevelt couldn't have done it better with his Big Stick approach. (Modern hunting rifles, plus the M-60 machine gun good ol' Frank has stashed in his backyard, don't hinder the clean-up either as lines of armored men with pikes are mowed down. Yee-haw, boys, I guess we showed them varmints a thing or two!) And then, of course, there are all the True Loves conveniently discovered as the Grantville singles fraternize with the natives. Indeed, the principal American strongman, Mike, finds his (on page 43 already) in a wooden stagecoach lurching down a local cart track pursued by period thugs. I mean, it's just all so sugary sweet that I was tempted to send out for Kleenex, insulin and an air-sickness bag, not really sure which I'd need first.
And how about those unwashed local yokels, huh? As various elements become socially and militarily allied with those amazing Yanks, does any individual among the former ever ask who won the Thirty Years War according to 20th century history books? (If 22nd century Wall Street suddenly dropped onto your back patio, wouldn't you at least want to know the future of that new gene technology IPO?) And are they particularly in awe of 20th century technological advances? Yawn. Without spilling too much of the plot, I can safely reveal that, at one point, our 17th century cousins, without having given it too much thought, are cozily sitting around the TVs chortling as Grantville's local programming is miraculously brought back on the air. (Hey, does anybody want to order out for some KFC before the game show starts?) All the comforts of a futuristic home.
There's only one element amidst this silliness that justified my finishing the book. It's the part describing the Thirty Years War and its greatest warrior-hero, King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden. A cursory examination of the war's history on an on-line encyclopedia was enough to show that the background material supplied in "1632" was at least superficially accurate, so I may have learned something of value while reading this oversized comic book. From beginning to end, the plot is just too pat and too shallow. Thus, if you're not interested in the historical bit, don't bother with the whole.
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on 30 May 2001
This is getting to be the greatest cliche of alternate history fiction: Small US community from the 20th/21st century displaced in time. After being suitably suitably decimated by Superior American Weapons, Tactics and Morale, the astounded inhabitants joyfully embrace Free Trade and The American Way. And everybody lives happily ever after. "1632" follows the formula from first to last page. The more lighthearted pulp fiction parts (the crusty old miner who just happens to have stored a M60 and untold crates of ammunition from his Vietnam days, the roleplaying teenagers who effortlessly turn into shining knights on motorbikes) is actually fun at times. The "serious" bits where 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 --- that part rings so seriously untrue it completely destroyed my enjoyment of this novel.
Unless writers of alternate history start varying this particular formula very soon, the entire sub-genre is in danger of dying from boredom.
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on 6 February 2000
"1632" continues the recent trend for stories involving contemporary communities displaced into the past, of which S.M.Stirling's Nantucket series is probably the best example. In this story, a West Virginian coal-mining community is displaced to central Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years' War, and we then see the impact of modern ideas (and weaponry) on the seventeenth century world, and vice versa. One may quibble at the authorial licence which arranged for the displaced zone to include both a power station and a coal mine, which makes the preservation of a technical culture a lot easier, but as Terry Pratchett says, "million to one chances happen nine times out of ten"! That said, Mr Flint tells an entertaining tale involving both transposed Americans and historical personages such as King Gustav II Adolf, Count Axel Oxenstierna, and the Holy Roman Empire generals Tilly and Wallenstein. May we hope for a sequel? N.B. The story involves some explicit sex scenes.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 June 2008
Many years ago, I went through a phase where alternate history fiction intrigued me and I read stuff like Harry Turtledove's Videssos series and William Fortschen's "Lost Regiment" series. Since then my tastes have more or less moved on. However, I kept seeing books from the 1632 series at the library and finally decided to pick this first one up and give it a whirl. It took me a while to plow though its almost 600 pages (I'd forgotten what doorstoppers these kind of fantasy/sci-fi books were), and at the end I concluded that while it's a decent book for a long airplane ride or day at the beach, it's rather too simple and sweet to take very seriously on the whole, and certainly not something I'd recommend to anyone not already a fan of the subgenre.

The premise is that some kind of cosmic incident transposes a 6-mile sphere of contemporary West Virginia with a similar sphere from Germany circa 1632. The portion of West Virginia includes a town of several thousand people (based on Mannington, WV) along with a high school, power plant, coal mine, and a cast of all-American "regular" folks. (Many reviewers have noted that the premise is very similar to S.M Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time trilogy, which I have not read.) With nary a pause to bemoan their plight, the West Virginians elect an emergency committee and go about the business of reestablishing the democratic republic of the United States (complete with Bill of Rights) in the middle of the 30 Years War. Indeed, the book is filled to the brim with classic American optimism and go-getting attitude that it often smacks of something from the 1950s (or the 1890s for that matter).

That's all well and fine (if somewhat ironic, given America's current nation-building misadventures in Iraq), but to enjoy the book, the reader has to be on board with the "we can roll up our sleeves and just do it" tone that pervades the story (and presumably the series). This tone is something Flint addresses in his Afterword, and is worth quoting at length, since many readers may find it annoying: "Part of the reason I chose to write this novel is because I am more than a little sick and tired of two characteristics of most modern fiction, including science fiction. The first is that the common folk who built this country and keep it running...hardly ever appear.... That is especially true of people from rural areas....The second is the pervasive cynicism which seems to be the accepted wisdom of so many of today's writers." to be sure, there' nothing inherently wrong in taking that approach (although those "cynics" might point out that the building of this country was done at the expense of those already living here, using genocidal techniques, and that many of those who built were slaves...and that many of those who "keep it running" today are illegal immigrants), but the result of Flint's decision is a story without many setbacks for the plucky Americans, and thus far less drama than many would like.

As one would expect, the West Virginian's technological prowess enables them to immediately start influencing the world around them, and they are soon drawn into taking sides in the 30 Years War. One of the book's great flaws is that it never really pauses to explain what that war was about, or even who the key players are. For example, what is the Swedish king doing with his army in Germany, and why is the reader clearly supposed to assume he's on the side of "good"? Another large flaw is the cast of cardboard characters, a number of whom fall in love at first sight in a manner most convenient to the plotting. More minor flaws include the utter lack of psychological trauma to the displaced people, the lack of social collapse, the ease at which the American and Germans get along, the readiness with which the Germans abandon their social beliefs and codes for that of the Americans, and the rapid pace at which event unfurl in general -- all of which speak to the cheery tone noted above. It's hard to get too involved in the story because the villains, while nasty, never seem particularly menacing or dangerous. But if you're not put off by this (or the rather laughable explicit sex scene), the book is a relatively entertaining diversion -- and I might even pick up the following book in the series the next time I'm looking for an easy read.
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