Saturday, April 16, 2011

"1635: The Dreeson Incident" by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce

1635: The Dreeson Incident is another in Eric Flint's 1632 series, this time with co-author Virginia DeMarce. It was first published in 2008, but I'd skipped this one previously. (Chronologically, therefore - and by publication date - it comes before the other two books I've reviewed in this series.)

The thing is, Eric Flint has a website where he posts snippets of upcoming books, and when I started to read this one there, I gave up in disgust. It was full of minor characters who were very hard to keep straight. It was, in fact, a lot like the other two books DeMarce co-authored with him, only even more so.

But I'm a big fan of the series, and I figured I probably should read it, especially after seeing the comments from Alex Champion following my review of 1635: The Eastern Front. So I picked up a very nice hardcover copy, used.

Well,... there are a lot of characters in this book. Most of them have shown up previously (particularly in short stories, I think), but it's very hard to keep these minor characters straight. And although the whole series is just chock full of great characters, these aren't really the most interesting (or the most admirable) of them.

And there's a lot of repetition, as Champion noted in his comments:
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.

But he also says this:
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 Rebecca'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.

I like that kind of thing, myself. And those bits were great. But they were tiny bits in a huge mass of rather boring text. Oh, it wasn't that bad. It was certainly better reading it in book form than just a snippet every two days on Flint's website. But for two-thirds of the book, or more, there was nothing much to grab me. And I know Flint can do a lot better than that.

400 pages into the book there's an interesting event that's over all too quickly. And then we go back to the same stuff that filled the first part of it. Only at the very end did I get interested, especially with the comparison of antisemitism to race-related murders in the American South, and the remedy for both. (One of the things I love about this series is how it shows our own history and our own culture in a different light.)

I've read all the other novels in this series (but not all of the anthologies of shorter fiction), but I'd skipped this one. And really, I'd have to say I hadn't missed much. If you love the series, and especially if you're a real completest, you'll want to read this book. I'm actually glad I finally did. But most people could just as well skip it, I think.

Of course, if you really like the little family stories and Thanksgiving with difficult relatives, that kind of thing - and if you don't mind checking the family trees at the start of the book to try to keep everyone straight - you might like this book more than I did. Different strokes for different folks.

PS. Alex Champion says that DeMarce is a better short story writer, and indeed, this kind of thing works much better in short stories than in novels, I'd say. I've enjoyed the family stuff and the personal minutia in the 1632 short stories I've read. But then, it's easier to keep people straight in a short story which focuses on just a few people at a time.

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