1632 is not quite sci-fi, not quite historical fiction, and one hundred percent page-turning excitement. It’s speculative fiction that answers the question: What would happen if a West Virginian town from the year 2000 were suddenly transported to Europe in 1632? This set-up is the only sci-fi element to the plot; the rest of the adventures simply unfold from there as the citizens of Grantville cope with being dropped into the middle of a bloody European war.
Can they survive the armies ravaging the German countryside? And can the armies of Europe survive their introduction to rifles, motorcycles, and rock ‘n roll?
The book’s premise may seem strange and far-fetched, but Eric Flint masterfully brings it down to earth by his attention to detail: characters, politics, society, and most of all his gleefully detailed exploration of what exactly might happen if 17th- and 20th-century military hardware, tactics, and strategy collided. It’s a great deal of fun to watch the world get introduced to snipers, accurate cannons, and improvised armored personnel carriers four centuries early, but that’s not the whole story. It would be boring if all the fights were completely one-sided, and Flint avoids that trap by showing that technology isn’t everything. There’s intelligence and cunning on the part of the 17th-century characters (both allies and enemies), and real interaction as they learn more about these strange new weapons.
The book is certainly not all about the hardware, either. It has a large cast of well-written and likable characters from both centuries. They’re heroic, they’re flawed, they have their own individual battles to fight and dreams to find. The book also does a great job of developing relationships between the 17th and 20th century characters. A quote from the book sums it up, as the leaders of Grantville debate how they’re going to handle the new world they’re in: “What are those people out there going to be for us? Those dirty, diseased, desperate people out there in the camps and the woods. Fellow citizens, neighbors, friends—wives and husbands? Or are they going to be serfs, servants, lackeys—concubines? That is the choice.” They make the choice, and make it well: friendship and love and fighting side-by-side keeps them alive just as much as any gun or cannon.
1632 is part of the Baen Free Library, where sci-fi/fantasy publisher Baen Books offers a selection of its published books for free online. Readers are encouraged to buy a paper copy if they find a book they like, but it’s not required.