1632 by Eric Flint fantasy book reviews1632 by Eric Flint

There’s something to be said for sheer audacity. 1632, the first book in Eric Flint’s RING OF FIRE series, published in February, 2000, has got audacity in container-ship-sized loads.

In the year 2000, a section of West Virginia disappears from our world during an event called the Ring of Fire. It reappears in Thuringia (northern Germany), in the year 1631. The residents of Grantsville, the biggest town in the affected area, led by the steely-eyed protagonist Mike Stearns, promptly decide that they’re stuck there, so they’ll re-create the United State of America on another continent one hundred-forty-years sooner than usual.

That’s a noble experiment and it faces a couple of obstacles. Well, only one obstacle, actually. Europe is in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War, and various armies are rampaging through Thuringia, supporting themselves between sieges and battles by looting, plundering and pillaging. Mercenary troops collide with the transplanted Americans early in the book. How sad for the seventeenth century fighters that practically everyone in Grantsville is a gun-collecting, deer-hunting war veteran (one of whom smuggled home a machine gun and ammo from Viet Nam and buried it in the woods). In short order, the army of the United Mine Workers of America is offering the local peasants a protective cordon, accepting refugees and convening a constitutional convention.

1633 (Ring of Fire Series Book 2) Kindle Edition by David Weber (Author), Eric Flint (Author)

Book 2

Here is one of my favorite lines in the book:

“Specifically,” he stated, “you are under the protection of the United Mine Workers of America.”

Flint lets us know in the prologue of 1632 that there’s going to be no discussion of quantum physics, magical portals, of clicking our heels together and going home. The story is an exciting live-action role-playing game with a small force of Americans who completely outgun the competition. The competition are evil mercenaries, so we don’t have to feel sorry for them as they are chopped down like a summer lawn under the blades of a riding mower.

There are also a few other things that are not going to be problems for twentieth-century people dumped into the seventeenth century. Here’s a short list: no one’s going to struggle with a sense of psychic displacement or post-traumatic stress; no one’s going to pine for family or loved ones left behind; no one’s going to question the basic premise that they are stuck in the 1630s. No one is going to turn, irrationally, on another group; no one is going to scapegoat anyone; no one’s going to have a spiritual crisis.

A few more things no one in the new America is going to have to worry about: sufficient food, clean water, sanitation, electrical power, medicine, radios or even TV, except they do have to create their own programming. That’s because all that stuff came with them. They have their own coal vein, and Grantsville landed next to a river in Europe, so they have water and fuel for steam power. The area had its own power plant and three machine shops, several doctors and a jewelry store, so that as the various couples hook up, they can all get wedding-ring sets. It’s nice. Knowing they can’t maintain their current level of technology for too long, the Americans decide to “gear down,” and convert to steam power, settling at late-eighteenth/early nineteenth century tech. This is smart. All of this clears away survival-level problems so that Flint can get on with what’s important; those battles.

Most of the American characters are lightly sketched. Mike Stearns is some bigwig in the mine workers’ union. Other characters keep telling us that he is a prince and a natural leader; mostly he glares about with a steely gaze and growls authoritatively. In other cases, Flint gives a stereotypical character a contradiction, like Julie, the squealing, bouncing cheerleader who is also an Olympic-caliber sharpshooter; basically, Death With Pom-Poms. For the most part, this stuff is funny. Rebecca, the modest, beautiful and brilliant seventeenth-century Jewish maiden who falls in love with Mike (because, who wouldn’t?) really is brilliant. She is also educated and diplomatic, and her actions drive the plot in several places.

The book really takes off, though, when Flint indulges his man-crush on King Gustav Adolf of Sweden, an historic character who is sometimes called the Father of Modern Warfare. In one section of the book, Flint writes the famed battle of Breitenveld. This section has nothing to do with 1632’s story, and reads like exuberant non-fiction, the kind of thing you might see in a military history journal. And it’s interesting! Gustav and his advisor Axel Oxenstierna are passionate, arrogant, good-hearted and smart men, so well-drawn they nearly rise off the page.

The book is a lot of fun and the battle scenes are exciting, but what I found most interesting, while I was reading, was how deep the story’s twentieth-century sensibilities ran. We talk sometimes about a book being dated, and this one is; but it’s not just slang or gadgets. 1632 carries a “front-porch Americana” optimism that I don’t think a writer could pull off now. The book was written before the destruction of the World Trade Towers, before Daesh, before the near-total collapse of our economy, before Detroit declared bankruptcy, before countless incidents of mass shootings, before the internet, before Facebook, cyber-bullying and Twitter. Even for 2000, Flint stacked the deck in his story, tilting the playing field so that only the “good guys” could win, but it’s more than that. How many fantasy books have you read recently where an American labor union was the heroic group? I’m betting not too many.

If I’m counting right, there are twenty-three related books in this series. Most if not all are written collaboratively and a couple of them are anthologies. I honestly don’t think this is a series for me and I don’t want to make a 23-book commitment to this world. I’m glad I read 1632, though. I loved the exuberance.

Published in 2000. “The Ultimate Y2K Glitch…. 1632 In the year 1632 in northern Germany a reasonable person might conclude that things couldn’t get much worse. There was no food. Disease was rampant. For over a decade religious war had ravaged the land and the people. Catholic and Protestant armies marched and countermarched across the northern plains, laying waste the cities and slaughtering everywhere. In many rural areas population plummeted toward zero. Only the aristocrats remained relatively unscathed; for the peasants, death was a mercy. 2000 Things are going OK in Grantville, West Virginia. The mines are working, the buck are plentiful (it’s deer season) and everybody attending the wedding of Mike Stearn’s sister (including the entire membership of the local chapter of the United Mine Workers of America, which Mike leads) is having a good time. THEN, EVERYTHING CHANGED…. When the dust settles, Mike leads a small group of armed miners to find out what’s going on. Out past the edge of town Grantville’s asphalt road is cut, as with a sword. On the other side, a scene out of Hell; a man nailed to a farmhouse door, his wife and daughter Iying screaming in muck at the center of a ring of attentive men in steel vests. Faced with this, Mike and his friends don’t have to ask who to shoot. At that moment Freedom and Justice, American style, are introduced to the middle of The Thirty Years War.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.