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A Bill of Rights Explosion
on 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)