Monday, March 14, 2016

News from 1632

Review: Grantville Gazette, edited by Eric Flint


When Eric Flint conceived the “Ring of Fire,” a cosmic event in that transposed an entire town (Grantville) from year 2000 America to year 1632 Germany, he created more than the basis for a series of novels. The concept attracted fans, inspiring them to comment and even write their own “fanfic” stories in the milieu Flint devised.

Some of those fans are writers in their own right: Mercedes Lackey, for one. Others are just as able if less well known, as this second collection of fan stories shows. Many of these stories began their life in the 1632 Slush Pile at Baen’s Bar. (For those who desire to get into science fiction writing, this is one path to publication.)

My favorite of these compilations is the second. (The first was Ring of Fire whose highlight was a David Weber story.) Grantville Gazette includes five fiction and three non-fiction pieces, plus an introduction by Eric Flint. The book also gives the ground rules for stories in the Ring of Fire milieu, the most important being, if it isn’t native to the time, and wasn’t in the real-life town of Mannington, West Virginia, you can’t use it in the story. For that reason, ideas and knowledge are the strongest assets possessed by the Grantville “up-timers.”

Portraits” by Eric Flint places an up-time American nurse posed as a cheerleader in the model’s seat of Pieter Paul Rubens. Technically, Rubens is an enemy, yet he manages to persuade the girl to sit for him, dressed in nothing but Old Glory and her own dignity. She has a secret agenda, however, one that is only revealed after her portrait is complete.

Anna’s Story” by Loren Jones tells the events of the night of Ring of Fire from the perspective of a rural German girl, and the crotchety old farmer who takes her into his farmhouse. Anna is appropriately wide-eyed over the wealth of the Americans, while her mother is worried that this lord they have come to live with will expect more from them than a servant’s work.

Curio and Relic” by Tom van Natta introduces a type of gunsmith not often discussed in time-travel stories. Paul Santee has a gun collection ranging from matchlocks to machine guns. More important, he knows how to repair, cross-part and modify ammo to supply most of the firearms that made it down-time with Grantville. The Vietnam vet has an important part to play in Grantville's defense.

Sewing Circle” by Gorg Huff is the longest story in the anthology, and my favorite. Junior achievement meets time travel in this tale of five high-school freshmen (with a cartel of middle-school investors) who bring twenty-first century economics and nineteenth-century technology together to help prevent inflation in Grantville.

Virgina de Marce returns in this second Grantville story collection with “The Rudolstadt Colloquy.” American notions of freedom and tolerance run headlong into Medieval religious thought, and the result is a quiet—even yawn-inducing—meeting. The problem, from the American’s point of view, is that Medieval passions run to suppression of freedom. What’s needed is a call to revolution, taken straight from the music of “Mother Maybelle,” Johnny Cash’s mother-in-law.

On the fact side of the ledger, three fascinating pieces explain the technological background of the Grantville universe. “Radio in the 1632 Universe” by Rick Boatright (the source of Eric Flint’s radio expertise for the novels) explains the Maunder Minimum that affects radio reception for Grantville, and also details the limitations on up-time materials experienced by the locals. Remember, if it wasn’t in Mannington, WV, it can't be in Grantville. Period.

They’ve Got Bread Mold, So Why Can’t They Make Penicillin?” by Bob Gottlieb explains the difficulties and challenges of up-timer doctors in 1632. They know where penicillin comes from in the same way most of us know how TV works. Making it is a whole ‘nother industry! Meanwhile they have plagues, starving refugees and a local war to contend with.

Horse Power” by Karen Bergstralh puts the genetic contribution of up-time horses into perspective with details of two equine genes (X-Factor and HyPP), one beneficial and one lethal, and the difficulty of identifying either one in 1632. A catalogue of down-time horse breeds and the availability of Belgian draft horses within the Ring of Fire completes her discussion of the “horse power” available in Grantville.

If you’ve enjoyed the “1632verse” novels, both the fact and the fiction in this compilation are must-reads. For those who have never encountered Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire, I recommend reading at least 1632 first.