Why should people read science fiction? Arthur C. Clarke said, "Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories." Entertainment is nice but is there anything wrong with killing two or three or four birds with one stone? It is not unusual to pick up some correct information about science or technology from some good science fiction but it is also possible to pick up some history too. And ideas about politics.
1632 begins as a story of the town of Grantville West Virginia being hurled 368 years back in time, from the year 2000 to 1632. Now that is what you call a Y2K bug. They land in Germany in the middle of the 30 Years War and are quite mystified by the whole thing. It's a good thing they are hillbillies because those shotguns would come in real handy. Some of their new neighbors are just a might rambunctious. But besides the strangeness of their arrival there is nothing else very science fictiony about this story. From there on it is just modern Americans with Y2K technology figuring how to cope with the people, politics and technology of 17th century Europe. It is all of them ancient Europeans that have to cope with the future shock. Talk about sufficiently advanced magic.
As an alternate history novel it contains real historical characters like Oliver Cromwell, the French Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu, and the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus. Now in our real universe Gustavus Adolphus was killed in battle in November of 1632. But in Eric Flint's universe the hillbillies disrupt the timeline and become Gustav's allies and smite his enemies with their SUPER WEAPONS. So from the arrival of this town a new parallel universe is created and it becomes progressively more different from there on. I had heard of Cromwell and Richelieu but not that King of Sweden and had no knowledge of his importance. It is obvious from a little research that if that Swedish king had lived ten more years in this universe our history would probably be significantly different.
The 1632 series makes the Thirty Years War more real and repugnant than any of my history books ever did, which to my memory just mentioned some countries and dates which I wouldn't have remembered anyway. If you had asked me I would not have remembered that Cromwell was alive during the 30 years war. 1632 doesn't just mention rape and pillage, it puts faces on them. Sure they are fictitious faces but it is more like good historical fiction which shows how the people of the time lived and thought. That is the trouble with most history books. They say when and who the important people were and what incidents occurred but many times what happened was because of the attitudes of the populace at the time and that does not get communicated by the history books. This series shows what the commoners thought of the aristocracy of the day and what some weird commoners from the future with powerful weapons might have done to the aristocratic jerks. Raise your nose some more so I can insert my shotgun. This is 100 years after Martin Luther and shows what a boiling cauldron Europe was over the subject of religion. It is both horrifying and hilarious.
Eric Flint has gone in a different publishing direction than any series author that I am aware of. He has invited other authors to write books for the series and collaborated with some them. David Weber of the Honor Harrington universe has backed up 1000 years. That is not too unusual and has been done with the Bolo series by Keith Laumer and the Man-Kzin Wars series by Larry Niven. But Flint has also included fan fiction which is published under the title Grantville Gazzette. I am not aware of any author becoming an ally of fan fiction like this before. I have no idea how all of this is managed and quality and consistency are maintained but there is certainly lots of reading material.
The base of the series is 1632 and 1633 which introduce A LOT of characters. But then there are FOUR 1634 books.
Unsurprisingly The Galileo Affair takes place in Italy instead of Northern Europe. The Galileo Affair came out in 2005 and The Baltic War in 2008 but the Baltic War is the true continuation of events in 1633 while the Galileo Affair is a tangential story which I found only mildly interesting. 1634 The Bavarian Crisis is worse than The Galileo Affair.
There is no question that there is a certain element of jingoist American propaganda in this series. Some people don't like this and I am not saying I like it but I do accept that it exists in the real world. It is not unusual to see it taken to extremes in American science fiction. I just don't take it too seriously and let it get in the way of enjoying a good tale that has plenty of other good characteristics. But this psychology does say something about Western civilization today. It does make one wonder about the differences between Europe and the United States today. Unfortunately it looks like the US may have lost its way. The politics is as weird as 1632.
Hyperion contains politics and war but 1632 has far more realism. It is not as literary as the cantos but it is also not as silly either. No flying trees! Hyperion is entertaining infodreck. 1632 does not have futuristic or fantasy technology but there is considerable discussion of real technology because the people of Grantville have to "gear down" to adapt to life in their new improved 17th century. The Baltic War even has a unique use for a diving suit. Those bloody ancients were bloody bloody minded. Moving a town through time didn't first happen with 1632 however. Edmond Hamilton did it in 1951 with The City at World's End. In that story the town went into the future but the people had the same problem of keeping the technology running.
I can't make up my whether give this a 4 or a 5. The Galileo Affair wasn't to good but the first two with The Baltic War were fine. This series shows the importance of politicians knowing the relevance of technology and interactive effects of technology with economics and war more than plenty of books but the characters may not be as involving as many other books. That may be because there are so many characters. Sometimes it is hard to keep track.
We have to decide what to do with technology to control what kind of future we get. But we don't have any future history books to point out the pitfalls. We have to figure out what kind of future we want. Are we supposed to tolerate this crap?