Read an Excerpt
1634-The Ram Rebellion
By Eric Flint Virginia DeMarce
Baen BooksCopyright © 2006 Eric Flint & Virginia DeMarce
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCook Books
After Melissa Mailey ushered Mike Stearns into her living room and took a seat on an armchair facing him, she lifted her eyebrows. The expression on her face was one that Mike still remembered from years earlier, when he'd been a high school student and Melissa had been the most notorious teacher in the high school.
Which she still was, for that matter.
For the adult population of Grantville, Melissa's notoriety stemmed from her radical political opinions. For her students, however, that notoriety had an entirely different basis. Whatever flamboyantly egalitarian views Ms. Mailey entertained regarding society as a whole, there was not a shred of evidence for them in her classrooms.
The students who thought she was basically okay-Mike himself had been one of them-called her either The Schoolmarm from Hell or Melissa the Hun. Behind her back, of course. The terms used by other students went downhill from there. Very rapidly downhill, in many cases.
Granted, all of her students would admit that she was fair. But fair is not actually a virtue admired in a schoolteacher, by her students, especially when it was almost impossible to slide anything by her.
Merciful,yes; easy-going, yes; absent-minded, best of all.
As one of Mike's schoolmates had grumbled to him at the time, "Who cares if she's 'fair'?" The boy pointed an accusing finger at the book open before him on the cafeteria table. "So she's making all of us read this crap, equally and with no favoritism. Gee, ain't that great?"
Mike grimaced. The volume in question was Dante's Inferno, a book he had soon come to detest himself. Ms. Mailey's notions of "suitable reading" for teenagers bore no relationship at all to what teenagers thought themselves.
"'Fair,'" his friend continued remorselessly, the accusing finger still rigid. "Sure she is. Just like Satan himself, in this miserable book."
The expression on Melissa's face today was the same one Mike remembered from years before. The aloof, questioning eyebrow-lift with which she greeted a student who approached her with a problem after class. A facial gesture which, somehow, managed to combine three different propositions:
One. You wish?
Two. Yes, I will be glad to help you.
Three. You will almost certainly wish I hadn't.
"You've got the oddest look on your face, Mike," Melissa said, bringing him back to the moment. "What's up?"
He smiled, a bit sheepishly. "Just remembering ... Ah, never mind. I need your advice."
That was point one. Fearlessly, Mike plowed on.
"It's fine and dandy for me to give a fancy public speech about launching the American revolution ahead of schedule, now that our town is stranded in seventeenth century Europe. I even got elected head of the emergency committee, because of it, thanks to you. But now, ah ..."
"You've got to put your money where your mouth is. And you don't really know where to start, other than with some fine generalities - very vague, very politician-like - about freedom and equality." She leaned forward in her chair, lacing her long fingers together. "Yes, I understand. I'll be glad to give you whatever advice I can."
Point two, coming like the tides. Paralyzed for a moment, Mike studied her fingers. Very elegant and aristocratic fingers, they were. Absurdly so, really, for a woman with her political attitudes.
"Ah. Yes. I was thinking maybe ..."
But Melissa was already shaking her head. Another characteristic Mike remembered. Melissa Mailey was no more likely to let a student frame their own question than she was to provide them with an answer they wanted.
"Start with the land problem," she said firmly. "It stands right at the center of any revolution that shatters the old regime and ushers in democracy and the industrial revolution. That was true even in our own American revolution, though most people don't realize it."
He couldn't think of anything better to say than he had as a teenager.
She smiled. Very coolly, as he remembered her doing. "Mike, it's complicated. Land tenure is always complicated, especially in societies with a feudal background-and there's nothing dumber than trying to carry through a revolution based on misconceptions. For instance, you're probably assuming that seventeenth century German farmers are a bunch of serfs toiling on land owned by the aristocracy. So the simplest way to solve their problem is to expropriate the land from the great nobles and turn it over to the peasants."
He emitted the familiar response he remembered from high school. "Uh. Well. Yeah."
That firm, detestable headshake.
"Not in the least. That's true in eastern Europe, if I remember correctly, but it's not true here. Mind you, my memory of the details of German social history in the early modern period is a little vague, now. I haven't studied the subject since college, because it's not something we teach in this high school. Or any high school in America, so far as I know. But I remember enough to tell you that land relations in Germany in this day and age are a tangled mare's nest. If we approach it the wrong way, we're just as likely to infuriate the farmers as the nobility, which is the last thing we want to do."
She rose, moved over to one of the bookcases in the living room, and deftly plucked out two of the volumes there. "I've still got some of the relevant books, fortunately, and I've been refreshing my memory these past few days."
Then, as Mike feared she would, she came over and handed one of them to him.
Blessedly, the more slender volume.
"Start with this one. It's Barraclough's The Origins of Modern Germany and it's still-for my money, anyway-the best general history on the subject, even though it was written half a century ago."
Quickly, and as surreptitiously as possible, he flipped to the end of the book.
Not surreptitiously enough, of course.
"Oh, grow up," she said. "It's not even five hundred pages long. You can read it in a few days. What's so funny?"
Despite himself, Mike had started chuckling.
"Dante's Inferno was shorter than this, and you gave us a month to read that one."
"You were a callow youth, then. Besides, it was in terza rima and this is simple prose. So stop whining. Now ..."
A moment later, the other book-the great, fat, monstrous tome-was deposited firmly in his lap. It was all he could do not to groan.
"Then read this one."
The size of the thing would have been bad enough. The title-Economic History of Europe, for the love of God-made it even worse.
"For Pete's sake, Mike, it's just a book. Stop hefting it as if I were asking you to lift weights."
"Be easier," he muttered. "What'd they print it on? Depleted uranium?"
She returned to her seat. "Make fancy speeches, get elected the big shot, pay the price. No pain, no gain. And if you think that book looks like a bitch, wait'll you-we, I should say-run into the real world."
And that, too, he remembered. Such an oddly contradictory woman.
"Isn't that word politically incorrect?"
"Sure is. Ain't life a bitch?"
She was grinning, now, nothing cool about it.
* * *
Walking back to his house-listing, some, from the weight of the books tucked under his arm-Mike started muttering to himself.
"Point three. I almost certainly wish I hadn't."
* * *
The worst of it, of course, was that it wasn't true, and Mike knew it. In the times coming, the books would look like a piece of cake, compared to the real world.
It's complicated ... coming from Melissa Mailey ...
"Damn," he muttered. "Can't we just dump some tea leaves in a harbor somewhere, storm a famous prison or two, and be done with it?"
Excerpted from 1634-The Ram Rebellion by Eric Flint Virginia DeMarce Copyright ©2006 by Eric Flint & Virginia DeMarce. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.