Before I discuss the book pictured at the left here, let me expose a dirty little secret of my sci-fi/fantasy book club: We hate everything. Every month, we pick a book, maybe a third of us read it, and those that do finish the tome proceed to rip it apart for not being the book they would have picked. And we didn’t do that with Eric Flint’s 1632. Truth be told, pretty much everybody loved it.
The premise of 1632 is a large part of its appeal. In the year 2000, a small West Virginia town is inexplicably transported to the middle of the Holy Roman Empire (AKA Germany) in 1632, smack dab in the thick of the 30 Years’ War. The medieval setting gives the book a hint of fantasy, whilst the townsfolk’s struggle to adapt without the infrastructure of contemporary America is somewhat sci-fi. It also brushes up against Harry Turtledove-style alternate history, but from a ground-level view of people who know how history is going to turn out (as much as high school library encyclopedias can tell them, anyway). Which is to say, it appeals to fans of many subgenres. None of that, however, accounts for what makes 1632 such a–for lack of a better term–likable book.
Eric Flint lays out the secret in his prologue, where he basically excoriates the trend in contemporary (and even classic) speculative fiction to place normal people in extraordinary circumstance and watch them fail, only to see the hero emerge and save them from themselves. In 1632, nearly the whole town of Grantville is the everyman hero, with the vast majority of the population making their peace with the timeslip, and then taking up the bluecollar task of survival. Along the way, the locals decide that 17th century European society isn’t to their liking, and resolve to evangelize American-style democracy to the locals, and find themselves a heavily armed but grossly outnumbered faction fighting for survival betwixt the Spanish Inquisition, expansionist France, feudal proto-German warlords, and the piously pragmatic king fo Sweden.
The tale moves along at brisk pace, and the tone is relentlessly positive, celebrating honest, hardworking folk of two eras who come together to make a better world. In lesser hands, this would come off as jingoistic claptrap, but Flint succeeds at making the whole adventure palatable by populating his tale with thoughtful, likeable, fallible characters with well drawn motivations. While I wouldn’t place 1632 on the level of great specultive literaure, it is a unabashedly fun novel that rewards the reader for his efforts. Would that more modern sci-fi novels did the same.
Not sure if 1632 is for you. Don’t worry, Baen Books will let you read the first 20-odd chapters for free online. If that doesn’t make you like the book, nothing will.