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Grantville Gazette III by Eric Flint

Cover art by Tom Kidd

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

The third volume of the Grantville Gazette continues the tradition of reprinting the electronic magazine of Ring of Fire fiction in dead-tree format with an additional story by the master himself to start it off. Eric Flint's "Postage Due" tells the story of the introduction of the postage stamp some two centuries earlier than it did in our own timeline, with some glimpses of how this will be socially significant. In the here and now we take the concept of prepaid postage for granted to the point that we can hardly imagine any other way of paying for mail delivery. In fact, the earliest mail systems charged the person receiving the mail, and it was not unknown for people to refuse to accept a letter from an unknown sender. One early US President is said to have nearly missed the official announcement of his election because he was too cheap to pay the postage until the local postmaster clued him in to its nature.

Virginia DeMarce tells an interesting variation of the old "seven brides for seven brothers" theme in "Pasor Kastenmayer's Revenge." When the title character's daughter elopes with a Grantviller whom he regards as being of less than stellar character, he decides to take a unique revenge. He will have the marriageable young women of his congregation woo and convert a number of unchurched young uptimers. Each of the romances is detailed with loving care, to the point that when we were introduced to one character, I immediately realized that he had to be on the autism spectrum. Yet in the end, it seems that revenge isn't necessarily as sweet as one might have hoped.

"The Sound of Music" by David Carrico is the introduction story for Franz Sylwester and Marla Linder, who are drawn together by music in spite of their differences. Franz Sylwester was a successful violinist until his hand was brutally smashed by an angry rival (the aptly named Rupert Heydrich, whose surname has rather dark associations for modern readers, even if they would mean nothing to the character's contemporaries). Bereft of a livelihood and cast adrift into a hostile world, he wandered in search of what little income he could earn as an itinerant scribe, until he finally found his way to Grantville. There he was confronted by the strange and wonderful music of a future world, and by a woman of commanding presence, who was struggling with the might-have beens of a musical career of her own cut short by her being thrust into a world where more basic needs must be attended to first.

In "Other People's Money" Gorg Huff continues the story of the characters of "The Sewing Circle" from the first Grantville Gazette, as they set up the world's first mutual fund in a time in which the science of investing is still in its infancy. It is interesting to see the stern ethical foundations of the protagonists in regard to risk and investment, although of course we are now looking at it through the lens of the 2008 financial meltdown, which was largely caused by various shady derivatives markets which helped to conceal risk and leave people thinking they were investing in things that were more secure than they were in fact. Of course the story was written long before those events were more than a glimmer on the horizon, so it is difficult to recapture the mindset of that time and read it once again with the eyes of those innocent days gone by.

Eva Musch plumbs the darker side of history in "If the Demons Will Sleep." Although many moderns may well have heard of Elizabeth Bathory, the notorious Blood Countess who bathed in the blood of maidens in an effort to preserve her beauty, they're apt to think of her as something verging on the mythical, rather like Dracula. But while there are only the most tenuous links between the fictional figure of Dracula and the historical Vlad Tepes, Elizabeth Bathory was a very real historical personage whose trial and immurement took place only a few years before the arrival of the uptimers. And for a young woman who came very close to being one of her victims, that memory is a terror that follows her all the way to Grantville.

From the dark castles of Eastern Europe we travel to Cambridge University for the next story, "Hobson's Choice" by Francis Turner. A debate at a pub leads to a young scholar teaching the daughter of the publican intellectual skills that normally are reserved for the young men of the University. However, not everybody in the University is willing to see that their relationship is wholly innocent. The self-same prejudice which believes that a woman is incapable of intellectual pursuits also regards it as impossible for a man and a woman to relate in any way save sexually, either licitly in marriage or illicitly. Thus it's quite a triumph to see just what this young woman is capable of.

And then it's back to Grantville for Wood Hughes to give us "Hell Fighters," the story of a Benedictine monk with a quest. Many people, downtimer and uptimer alike, have asked what could be the reason for the Ring of Fire, but Brother Johann has an intensely personal one. He is the last survivor of the noble family who once owned the land which was replaced by a chunk of West Virginia countryside when the Ring of Fire came. So he leaves the monastery in which he had shut himself away from the world and journeys to Grantville to see what manner of town has replaced his patrimony.

This is one of the most poignant stories because of its images of innocent children dying in a fire that swept through an illegal slum. However, at the same time these events remind us that no matter how carefully the government sets forth laws to ensure the safety of its citizens, they are only as good as the citizens' willingness to comply with them and the government's ability to enforce them. For all that Grantville is led by a strongly populist leadership, human beings will still have all their flaws, including short-sighted greed and obliviousness to the consequences of one's actions to one's fellow human beings. But the horror is not the end, and the good Brother can see a way to bring good out of the evil done by one greedy man.

In addition, we have the second episode of "Euterpe," an ongoing story by Enrico M. Toro which began in Grantville Gazette II. This installment focuses more on their journey than on their actual experiences in Grantville, yet it remains interesting all the same.

And as usual, the volume is rounded out by several non-fiction articles. For instance, did you know that until recently the most recycled material in the world was iron? Or just what kinds of social and economic barriers will slow the spread of mechanized farming, even in the face of its clear advantages? And yet again we have another brief article written as though by a downtime alchemist trying to come to grips with modern chemistry.

Table of Contents

  • Preface by Eric Flint

Fiction

  • "Postage Due" by Eric Flint
  • "Pastor Kastenmayer's Revenge" by Virginia DeMarce
  • "The Sound of Music" by David Carrico
  • "Other People's Money" by Gorg Huff
  • "If the Demons Will Sleep" by Eva Musch
  • "Hobson's Choice" by Francis Turner
  • "Hell Fighters" by Wood Hughes

Continuing Serials

  • "Euterpe, episode 2" by Enrico N. Toro

Fact

  • "Iron" by Rick Boatright
  • "The Impact of Mechanization on German Farms" by Karen Bergstralh
  • "Flint's Lock" by Leonard Hollar,Bob Hollingsworth, TomVan Natta,and John Zeek
  • "Alchemical Distillation" by Andrew Clark

Review posted March 30, 2009.

Buy Grantville Gazette III (The Ring of Fire) (v. 3) from Amazon.com