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Grantville Gazette by Eric Flint

Cover art by Thomas Kidd

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Almost from its inception the novel 1632 was a team project. Eric Flint knew that no one person, even one with his own extensive background in history, could possibly know all the things that would be necessary to get every aspect of the world of the Thirty Years' War right. So he enlisted the aid of the Barflies, the people who frequent the Internet forum known as Baen's Bar, for assistance in researching some of the more obscure and abstruse aspects of the era.

Although most people kept their responses to expository writing, there were a few who found narrative a more easy way to show what they meant, writing bits and snatches of scenes. When Flint gave the writers the go-ahead, some of these were expanded into full-blown fanfics. Flint was happily surprised to see that many of them were of publishable quality -- but there was no market for them. Since they were set in a copyrighted universe, no magazine could accept them, and Baen Books was set up only to publish full-length novels.

Undaunted, Flint set about creating one, and arranged for an anthology of short stories set in the 1632-verse to be published. In order to make it sell, he extended invitations to a number of well-known writers in Baen's stable to write stories for it. However, the inclusion of the necessary big names that would draw in uncertain readers and make them confident it would be worth their money to purchase the anthology, entitled Ring of Fire, meant that there was that much less space for the first-time writers whose work had originally inspired the anthology. To make matters worse, the stream of fanfic had not stopped, and if anything people seemed to be coming up with even more ideas.

So he went back to Jim Baen once again, this time with a new proposal. Instead of a one-time anthology, why not do a regular magazine? Of course a print on paper magazine would have too many overhead costs, but the success of the Webscriptions system had proved that Baen readers would buy electronic copies at reasonable costs, and that there wouldn't be a frantic rush to pirate them that would destroy the profitability upon which future issues would depend. Thus Grantville Gazette was born as a bimonthly e-zine containing both fiction and non-fiction. When the experiment succeeded well enough to make it a self-sustaining venture, they decided to go further and publish the first volume in dead-tree format, as a paperback book, becoming effectively another Baen anthology.

Like the Ring of Fire anthology, the stories in this volume seek to peer into the gaps between the actual novels, turning out stories that were only hinted at in them or even exploring entire new avenues. For instance, "Anne's Story" by Loren Jones explores more fully the story of the young woman whom we only glimpsed in 1632, running past Mike Stearns and the other miners as they went to investigate what had happened as a result of the Ring of Fire. In the novel she was just a bit detail to let us know that something very strange was afoot, but in this story she becomes a full-fledged character in her own right with a history and an inner life that impells her hopes, dreams and actions.

Similarly, "Curio and Relic" by Tom Van Natta explores an untold bit of the life of Eddie Cantrell, which illuminates some of the qualities that led him to be chosen as one of Admiral Simpson's lieutenants when it came time to create a navy. Although Eddie is uneasy at first to have to work with eccentric Vietnam War veteran Paul Santee, who in turn is suspicious of him, but in time they attain a mutual respect that enables them to work together.

The links in "Sewing Circle" by Gorg Huff is even more tenuous, with one of the children being a cousin of some degree to Jeff Higgins and another being the daughter of the chairman of the New US Federal Reserve. But the focus of the story is not upon those relationships, but rather upon the children's own efforts to pull their own weight when suddenly thrust into a situation in which everyone needs to contribute saleable products that the Grantvillers can trade with their neighbors for the things they cannot make themselves. They go about it in a methodolical way, learning hard lessons in the difficulties of communicating the principles of mass production to a people more accustomed to craft methods of production, and all the time manage to keep up with their regular schoolwork.

Virginia De Marce's "The Rudolstadt Colloquy" deals much more with the "big picture," tackling the story of a meeting of Lutheran church leaders to hammer out theological responses to the sudden transportation of a town from the future into their present. Yet even so she invests it with an immediacy that leaves us fully convinced that each of her characters is a person with lives and interests that extend beyond the bounds of the story.

Eric Flint himself has written a short story for the paperback version, which became the basis of the cover illustration. "Portraits" is set in New Amsterdam during the period of Rebecca Abrabanel Stearns' delegation there, trapped by the necessities of war. Most of us know Pieter Paul Rubens as a famous painter of Culturally Important Works of Art, but in this short, humorous story he comes to life as a man caught in a world suddenly and dramatically changed.

In addition to the fiction, there are three articles: one on radio, one on medicine, and one on horse breeding. All three of them have been very carefully researched and include a list of websites by reputable organizations for further reading.

Table of Contents

  • Preface for the paperback edition by Eric Flint
  • Fiction
    • "Portraits" by Eric Flint
    • "Anna's Story" by Loren Jones
    • "Curio and Relic" by Tom Van Natta
    • "The Sewing Circle" by Gorg Huff
    • "The Rudolstadt Colloquy" by Virginia De Marce
  • Fact:
    • "Radio in the 1632 Universe" by Rick Boatright
    • "They've Got Bread Mold, So Why Cant they Make Penicillin?" by Robert Gottlief
    • "Horse Power" by Karen Bergstralh
  • Afterword by Eric Flint

Review posted January 15, 2009

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