Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Apr 18, 2006

1634: The Ram Rebellion

The basis for this series of books is that a very small, modern, West Virginian town named Grantville was transplanted, whole, to Southern Germany (specifically, Thuringia), during the Thirty Years War. The specific mechanics of the time-travel are given barely a footnote, which is appropriate because the story isn't about science fiction, it's about contrasting and comparing the Germany of three hundred seventy years ago with modern-day America. Specifically, the modern-day America found in what some might believe her most stagnant backwaters--small Southern towns--but what are actually, in the author's view, some of the last bastions of real principled Americanism.

1632, the premier book in this series by Eric Flint (and now, numerous other authors), is one of my favorite books, to the extent that it rivals such literary examplars as The Fountainhead. I consider it to be of supreme esthetic excellence because it projects, through fascinating characters, suspenseful plot, and beautifully evocative prose, the precise nature and uniqueness of America's underlying principles.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what has led to the destruction of the rest of the series.

In a bizarre case of art imitating life, probably without the author's full intention, the stellar dedication to uncompromising principles evident in the first book degenerates, through the second (1633) into politicking, and in both 1634 books (The Gallileo Affair and now The Ram Rebellion) into endless lists and records of minutia, much like political discourse has degenerated in real-life America! It is evident that the Americans are both devoted to their principles (freedom of religion, in particular), but that their reasons for devotion are really somewhat habitual. Sure, they understand that freedom is the best system, but their grasp of the reasons for it is either weak or nonexistant.

So, their methods boil down to, over and over, a sort of "show and tell", where they hope the Germans will pick up on their methods by observing how rich, prosperous, and happy the Americans are. Why should we have freedom of religion? Because it works better than anything else. What method should we use to promulgate this idea? Whatever method works the best, regardless of its other consequences. That, in a nutshell, is the full extent of the exploration of some really fundamental ideological principles.

I find it somewhat ironic that, in this book, the American intellectual chosen as representative is none other than Thomas Paine and his propaganda of freedom, Common Sense. That, and I get to giggle and announce that I saw THAT one coming a mile away.

Unless you're REALLY REALLY interested in the historical perspective and a LOT of minutia, I don't recommend any of the books past 1633. Eric Flint turned his series into an online community where a vast number of writers, mostly amateurs, are contributing short fiction, and I don't really enjoy anything written by a committee. The emphasis on writing good drama was left by the wayside, and it apparently became more important to make sure that everyone's pet ideas were included to flesh out the town of Grantville. There are SO many characters and they have SO few distinguishing character traits that it's literally impossible to keep track of them without an index. In general I consider appendicies/indecies to be a harmless affectation on the part of an author, but if you cannot read the book without flipping to the chart in the back then you have a serious problem on your hands. Time to trim some characters or characterize them well enough to make them memorable.

Rating: 2.0

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