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After my interview on Thursday, I waited around at the Evanston public library for a while. After a basic mosey through the first two floors - the place is wonderful, I'd show you if I had a real camera to capture it, but some of the old school grandeur can be seen here, and there is also at least one awesome decorative theme in the children's area - I settled in with one of the many many books on my mental To Read list: 1632 by Eric Flint. I'd heard no more than that it was a good book; that's usually enough for me to commit to a hundred pages or so.

A surprise awaited me when I opened the book to the prologue: a previous patron had found a creative way to share a review. My response was mixed (aren't they all?) because while I approve of subversion in books, this is a little literal for my taste, and I evidently have an inner schoolmarm who is just shocked, shocked at this kind of defacement, no matter what the motivation. I also laughed furtively, the way sheltered kids often do when first faced with a dirty joke.

As it happens, I don't think this book sux even in the slightest. The premise is very simple: a West Virginia mining town is scooped part and parcel out of the Appalachian Mountains in 2000 and dropped in 17th century Germany, midway through the Thirty Years War. Alternate historying commences with alacrity.

I am far from being a history buff; I know nothing of the war beyond the name, and only recognized one historical figure out of the half dozen or so real people peppered through the story (Richelieu - my mental tag for him: "French guy"). What I enjoy about alternate history stories is generally more to do with the culture shift between what was and what might have been. 1632 delivers on that in a big way.

I was surprised by the relentless optimism of this book. If I had to pick a literal theme to accompany it, it would be "America (Fuck Yeah!)." Progress triumphs over everything, the citizens of a modern mining town with a handful of vets can handily defeat armies of a variety of sizes and compositions, and oh yeah, these small town folks are everything the Founding Fathers could possibly have wanted us to become, AND they're union guys to boot. The afterword explains this tone pretty concisely:

Part of the reason I chose to write this novel is because I am more than a little sick and tired of two characteristics of most modern fiction, including science fiction.

The first is that the common folk who built this country and keep it running - blue-collar workers, schoolteachers, farmers, and the like - hardly ever appear. If they figure at all, it is usually as a spear carriers - or, more often than not, as a bastion of ignorance and bigotry. This is especially true of people from such rural areas as West Virginia. Hicks and hillbillies: a general, undifferentiated mass of darkness.

The second is the pervasive cynicism which seems to be the accepted "sophisticated" wisdom of so many of today's writers. (Not all, thankfully.) I will have no truck with it. Of all philosophies, cynicism is the most shallow and puerile.

I'm not inclined to criticize this (except maybe to question which grammatical style guide was used in editing the afterword...). I can't really say that I believe what he believes, but I wish I did: I'd love to think that the heirs of the American Revolution are all around us, ARE us; I want to believe that modern men would be uniformly disgusted by the idea that women are spoils of war; I wish it were true that freedom and equality and separation of church and state can easily defeat caste systems with state-sponsored religions. Cynicism is a lot closer to realism than any of these ideas - but with so much "escapist" literature taking place in barren post-apocalyptic wastelands, it's nice to find something peppy like 1632. It's almost as if Chicken Soup for the Soul got injected with lots and lots and LOTSandLOTS of guns and also a few guys getting hacked with sabers. I think we can all agree that, one way or another, guns could hugely improve those Chicken Soup books.
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