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1632 by Eric Flint
(Baen, Paperback, $7.99, 592 pages; published 2002.)

It's the year 2000. The small town of Grantville, West Virginia, is celebrating a so-so year and a big wedding, as the sister cover scanof the local miners' union leader gets hitched to her beau. Next thing you know, town, wedding, several square miles of Appalachian Hillbilly territory and several hundred ornery United Mine Workers of America are surrounded by a flaring globe of fire that snaps them back in time to the year 1631.

The timing is bad, and the location's worse, for they've ended up in central Germany at the height of the gruesome Thirty Years War. There are Catholics and Protestants rampaging around the countryside, raping, burning, pillaging, killing. Massive armies and hordes of desperate refugees swarm hither and yon, the inquisition is busy burning Jews and Heretics, and King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden is squaring up to the Imperial armies captained by Tilly and Wallenstein...

Caught in bedlam, the inhabitants of Grantville draw a deep breath, and elect to recreate the United States of America. Well, what else can they do? It's revolution or bust as far as they're concerned.

Semi-automatics, pump-action shotguns, radio technology and a few other high tech tricks make them a formidable force, and in-between stamping on the local hard-cases, they still find time to knock together a functional constitution and spread the word about Representative Democracy and the Bill of Rights in the local towns.

Sounds like a good read? Alas, there are two problems. Firstly, the book is fundamentally a rip-off of S.M. Stirling's very much more polished "Island in the Sea of Time" trilogy. I don't know if there's an established "small American town gets whipped back in time and the just-plain-ordinary-folks have to make do with whatever they can scratch up in their back-yard while making over the whole world in their own image" genre... but Flint seems set on contributing to one. If you're searching for originality, or even a compelling account of a particular historical moment, you won't find it here.

Secondly, Flint is one of the clumsier current writers in the military end of the sci-fi field. His style reduces most characters to gruff sound-bites and soulful glances. You know a story is in trouble, that the people you've been introduced to just don't have enough presence to hold your attention, when their names rattle by and you think, "hang on, who's that? did we meet him back in chapter 16 or what?"

I have to allow Flint the capacity to write a tense finale, but after grinding through 500 entirely predictable pages, finding the last 92 are quite racy isn't adequate compensation. 1632 is a door-stopper of a novel, dense, generally dull, and knocked off clumsily from the mould of far better work.


Review by Simeon Shoul.


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© Simeon Shoul 29 June 2002