Saturday, October 16, 2010

"1635: The Eastern Front" by Eric Flint

(cover shot from FantasticFiction)

Eric Flint's 1632 series of alternate history examines the world-shaking results when a small town in West Virginia is suddenly transported to 1632 Germany, in the middle of the Thirty Years' War.

1632 is a perfect example of Flint's typically optimistic attitude. The Americans of Grantville are mostly very decent people dedicated to our nation's fundamental principles, including freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. Even when they disagree, they work together to do what is right. (This hardly seems plausible today, but note that the series began a decade ago, before the complete lunacy of recent years.)

And his 17th Century Germans are ambitious and, mostly, eager for democracy. There's plenty of conflict, yes. But the series is inspiring. (Too bad it's just fiction, huh?)

The series was developed from the beginning as a shared universe, and many different authors have written or co-written stories about hundreds of characters. Of course, not all of the books and stories are of equal quality, but it really is a fascinating world with very appealing characters.

The series started with 1632 and then 1633. But as the effect of the miraculous event spreads throughout Europe, and affects more and more people, different threads have started to follow specific people in different parts of the continent. So there have been several novels set in each of the following two years.

One very successful thread has been set in Italy, starting with 1634: The Galileo Affair and continuing with 1635: The Cannon Law, both by Eric Flint and Andrew Dennis. Another thread, most recently in 1635: The Dreeson Incident, by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce, has been far less successful, overly full of minor characters who are difficult to keep straight.

This particular thread follows 1632, 1633, and then 1634: The Baltic War, so those are the only novels you really must read first. In the latter book, John George of Saxony betrayed King Gustav Adolph, and in this one, he pays the price. The army, with Mike Stearns now a brand-new general (as expected, he lost the election and is no longer Prime Minister) and Jeff Higgens a captain who's just as green, invades Saxony and then continues on to Poland.

For the most part, this book follows major characters, and there's no problem keeping them straight. It's an easy, entertaining read, too. However, it's basically just one long setup for an incident at the very end of the book, a history-changing event which apparently sets up the next book in the series - 1636: The Saxon Uprising - which has not yet been published (and probably other novels, too).

The better books in the series, like 1634: The Galileo Affair, are pretty much complete in themselves. Even though the story continues later (as history always does), those books have satisfying endings of their own. 1635: The Eastern Front isn't like that. It's just part of a story. If you're a fan of the series, you'll want to read it, but don't expect too much. As I say, the whole thing just sets up the major incident at the end.

On the one hand, that makes this book somewhat disappointing. But it's a lot better than the recent DeMarce books (going by what I've read of them, anyway). And it sets up a new conflict - at least one - which sounds quite intriguing. There's always a struggle in any series to keep finding new things to say. This particular event has the potential to stir things up, creating new problems and new opportunities. So I'll be anxious to see where the story goes from here.

Note that there's a continuing hint that the Ottoman Empire might be planning to invade Europe, too. And there's still the situation in Italy, which was left in disaster at the end of 1635: The Cannon Law. For four years now, I've been waiting for that particular thread to continue. So this series still seems to have a lot of life left in it.

If you're a fan of this series, you'll want to read this book - if not now, then before the next in the series is published. If you're not familiar with the series, read 1632 first. It's really lots of fun.


Jim Harris said...

I haven't read any of these books in the 1632 series, but Bill you've convinced me to at least try the first one.

WCG said...

Jim, note that the first two books are available online at the Baen Books Free Library. I probably should have mentioned that in my post.

Miles Harding said...

The DeMarce books are very bad indeed. It is very hard to keep tracks of the characters. The long development on their family histories are unrelevant and boring. I only read them to keep track of minor continuity information.

ON the other hand the main thread by Eric Flint reads like a Cyberpunk Tom Clancy and so does the Eastern Front, although 1633 and 1634 are the best in the series.

The event at the end of the book is changing the status quo of the whole series and makes me eager to read the next books. I am really looking forward to the Saxon uprising.

WCG said...

Yes, I agree, Miles. That event - I don't want to give away any spoilers - really shakes things up. I don't know if it's been planned all along, but it should keep the series from getting into a rut.

My only complaint is that this book doesn't do much but set up that event. But I can live with that, if the next in the series doesn't disappoint.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree somewhat about the DeMarce books.

I'm an archivist by training and have a love/hate relationship with genealogists but you have to remember that she's a skilled researcher that puts this town in context.

I recall Hans asking what a newspaper was in 1632, even though he's the son of a printer, but DeMarce points out newspapers already existed in one form or another. She pretty much invented Ronnie Dreeson, the Cavriani's, and fleshes out the existing political circumstances of contemporary Germans. The uptimers did not fall into a vacuum.

She spends too much time in the minutia. I recall in Dreeson Incident when Stoner's middle boy's Jenkins flame asked her mother about their family history and the mother summed up the same bits of info listed on the previous page. Aggravating.

There's a lot of depth that, upon rereading, really enriches the story but perhaps not enough to justify it. "Oh this character made this remark when at the same date in this other book she wrote another character sent the letter to...oooooh. Wow" happens quite a bit. I still prefer her to some of the Gazette contributors.

WCG said...

Just different tastes, I suppose. I like the focus on minor characters, but I can't keep them straight in her books. It takes a real knack for an author to show us an abundance of characters who are all memorable enough to stand out, and DeMarce apparently doesn't have what it takes.

The Ram Rebellion and The Bavarian Crisis were OK, I guess, but The Dreeson Incident was just ridiculous. I read part of it on Eric Flint's website, before giving up in disgust. It read like a parody of the series.

Of course, those books were coauthored by Eric Flint, so I can't blame DeMarce alone (although the books written just by Flint, or with Andrew Dennis, are much better). And maybe if I'd read them several times, trying hard to keep everyone straight, I would have finally appreciated the story.

Alex Champion said...

Anonymous returns: The only thing that sustained me through Dreeson was that it finally addressed the problems that other authors generally ignored--what are the effects of all these adventures of war and intrigue doing to this small Appalachian town?

The reactions of Gretchen's youngest children and Rebbecca's Sephie, especially since she arrives with a baby girl and an adopted toddler boy, to these strangers who are supposedly their mothers are priceless. Funny and tragic at the same time. Sephie is raised by Opa Abrabanel and visited every month or so by her dad. I'm a sucker for the child's perspective (the princess' take on her father's diplomacy as she's shuttled to Magdeburg is a favorite) but these moments illustrate the personal toll.

DeMarce is a better short fiction writer and Tangled Web is three such stories. They're tolerable in the same way that Ram Rebellion is.

WCG said...

Alex, if you're getting these comments, note that I finally read 1635: The Dreeson Incident and posted a review here.

I hope you don't mind that I re-posted many of your comments above. After all, your comments were a good part of the reason I finally read it.

I wasn't crazy about the book - I think that kind of thing works better in short stories - but it wasn't as bad as I expected. In fact, I'm glad I read it.