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1634: The Ram Rebellion by Eric Flint with Virginia DeMarce

Published by Baen Books

Cover art by Tom Kidd

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

This volume is rather unusual in that it is not precisely a novel and not precisely an anthology. Although it is composed of a number of stories by different authors, it in fact adds up to a single story about how the coming of Grantville and the modern ideas of its people ignited a rebellion in Franconia centered around the symbol of the Ram. In many ways it fits as a "collage novel," the term Vera Nazarian invented to describe her own novel Dreams of the Compass Rose, fitted together from a number of short stories, but forming a whole greater than the parts. A collage novel differs from a fix-up in that there are no interstitial bits inserted subsequently in order to make it work as a whole -- each sub-unit within it is a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end.

However, 1634: The Ram Rebellion is even more interesting in that it is not the product of a single pair of hands. Rather, it is a collaboration that arose in Eric Flint's 1632 topics at Baen's Bar. There, people set to tossing ideas back and forth among themselves about what was going on among the ordinary people while the great events of the northern war were playing out on the Baltic coast. Soon people began writing stories to who what they meant about how different groups of people would respond to the situation. Some of them were close enough to publishable that with a little editorial prompting they could be put into a presentable form. Eric Flint then wrote some stories that helped tie them together.

For instance, there is the story of the American farmer who wanted to expand his holdings to replace lands that had been left uptime by the Ring of Fire. Back home in the old USA it would have been a relatively simple task to locate available land. The biggest problem would have been securing financing. But in the new world in which he finds himself, every square inch of arable land is tied up by a network of obligations that often go back well into the Middle Ages and represent a time when feudal ties rather than national loyalty or financial contracts bound people together. Even just renting the use of a parcel of land may well involve clarifying exactly what rights (such as collecting apples from a small grove on a corner of it, or grazing cattle on the stubble after the crops are harvested) may have been sold out. His exasperation leads people to question just why things are done the way they are.

And then there are the Mormon missionaries whose efforts to spread the word of their belief in Jesus Christ's visit to America and the civilizations there (as told in the Book of Mormon) are regarded as not merely an affront, but an abomination to be dealt with harshly. For people who have simply assumed that freedom of religion is a fact of life, meeting up with the punishments dealt out to heretics in the seventeenth century is a major shock.

But the core of the story is the account of Brillo, the scroungy downtime ram who wanted to mate with the prize Merino ewes brought by an uptime shepherd to improve the New US stock. His determination soon becomes a symbol of the aspirations of all the ordinary people who are being kept down by the nobility, who cling to various privileges that made sense in the first few centuries after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, but which have become outdated and oppressive. Soon Brillo is the subject of a wide variety of songs, stories and cartoons, innocent enough on the surface but freighted with meaning that is social and political dynamite. And it only takes the right spark to set it off.

Table of Contents

  • Preface by Eric Flint
  • Part I: Recipes for Revolution
    • "Cook Books" by Eric Flint
    • "Birdie's Farm" by Gorg Huff & Paula Goodlett
    • "Scrambled Eggs" by Eric Flint
    • "Birdie's Village" by Gorg Huff & Paula Goodlett
    • "Bacon" by Eric Flint
  • Part II: Enter the Ram
    • "The Merino Problem" by Paula Goodlett
    • "The Brillo Legends' by Paula Goodlett, Virginia De Marce, Stanley Leghorn, & Rick Boatright
    • "The Brillo Letters" by Paula Goodlett, Virginia DeMarce, Kerryn Offord & Laura Runkle
    • "A Night at the Ballet" by Kerryn Offord
  • Part III: The Trouble in Franconia
    • "Motherhood and Apple Pie, While You're At It" by Virginia DeMarce
    • "Common Sense" by Virginia DeMarce
    • "The Suhl Incident" by Eric Flint & John Zeek
    • "Bypass Surgery by Virginia DeMarce
    • "In the Night, All Hats are Gray" by Virginia DeMarce
    • "Who's Calling This Race?" by Virginia DeMarce
    • "A Nightmare Upon the Present" by Virginia DeMarce
    • "On Ye Saints" by Eva Musch
    • "Suits" by Eric Flint
  • Part IV: The Ram Rebellion by Eric Flint & Virginia DeMarce

Review posted January 2, 2009

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