I'm not surprised I liked Eric Flint's 1632. I am surprised how much I took from it.
The basic concept is a real doozy, for starters, stranding a turn-of-the-second-millenium West Virginian mining town in seventeenth century Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years War. Our intrepid time-travellers then (of course) attempt to start the American Revolution a hundred and forty years or so earlier than scheduled.
We Brits tend, I think, not to know a great deal about the Thirty Years War; our ancestors were mostly distracted by domestic quarrels. But we missed out on an unholy mess of rebellion, foreign intervention and religious strife that makes our own Civil War look like a barroom brawl. A worse indictment of monarchy, aristocracy and church could scarce be found in early modern Europe.
Against this backdrop, Flint is able to juxtapose the values of the Founding Fathers and the civic virtues of America (tolerance, inclusion, democracy, practicality, informality) to their full advantage, without the need to include a corresponding critique. His own background as a union organiser also brings the American tradition of equality into full focus alongside the more familiar call to liberty.
Effectively, the story itself is a pulp exercise in nation-building. As much consideration is given to generating power, to trade, logistics and constitutional theory as to the lives of its protagonists, or the battles that interrupt a narrative that would otherwise resemble a game of Sid Meier's Civilisation.
Not that I'd complain about a novel that was pure Civ fan-fic. Just saying.
I call 1632 pulp fiction because it is - the good characters are uncomplicatedly so, the villains mostly likewise, and Flint creates ample opportunities for the reader to cheer at one cliche and jeer the other. That doesn't mean it isn't clever at the same time: he uses the road-map of American civics to make some interesting points about religious and racial tolerance and women serving in the reconstituted US army.
It being modern US pulp SF, there's a truckload - heck, several truckloads - of guns: how else are displaced West Virginians going to achieve military superiority? On the plus side, Flint doesn't turn combat into a video game; on the debit side, he lingers rather too much on the brutal impact of modern firearms to my British taste.
As to why I got more from 1632 than expected - well, wherever you come from politically, it's quite refreshing to find a book that doesn't just suggest that the status quo can be changed, but is quite clear than no change is not an option.We don't live in the midst of the Thirty Years War, but at the present time the thought of working together to build a new and better polity - a better world, even - sounds like an ever more attractive idea.