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Grantville Gazette IV by Eric Flint (editor)

Cover art by Tom Kidd

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

The e-zine which was originally designed to take the overflow from Eric Flint's Ring of Fire anthology, and which succeeded so well that it was made into a print publication, now has its fourth volume in print as a hardcover book. Following the pattern he established in the original Grantville Gazette, Flint opens the print version of this volume with a new story of his own, "The Anatomy Lesson." However, while the earlier ones dealt primarily with the Grantvillers stuck behind the lines during the siege of Amsterdam, this story deals with Amsterdam's new place in the Netherlands Don Francisco is creating. Of course the Americans and their sciences (as well as their attitudes toward such things as class and gender) have their roles to play in it -- and it will open doors of possibility not only for the downtrodden lower classes, but also for members of the upper classes who find their temperaments more suited to the sciences than the arts of war and rulership.

In "Poor Little Rich Girls" Paula Goodlett and Gorg Huff continue the story of the Sewing Circle and the Barbie Consortiium amidst the ongoing social and economic changes brought about by Grantville's transposition in time. Judy is beginning to have second thoughts about the morality of her having profited so handsomely from the panic in "Other People's Money" (printed in the third issue of the Grantville Gazette, and particularly playing upon the perceptions of downtimers that she was just an ignorant girl, and therefore a sucker. The story also brings in several of the characters who were important in 1635: The Dreeson Incident, including Veda Mae Haggerty, and provides some more insight into the various bitternesses that were motivating them in that novel. (The title itself is a reference to the cartoon character of Richie Rich, whose comic was subtitled "the poor little rich boy").

In "'Til We Meet Again" Virginia DeMarce begins with the story of an industrial accident at one of Grantville's many shops, caused by careless lockout procedures. However, the accident and its life-shattering consequences to its victims are not the main thrust of the story. Instead, it focuses on the story of a widow getting on with her life, sometimes even against the advice of those who think she ought to wait and mourn longer. (The title refers to a hymn.)

Karen Bergstrahl gives us another story of a downtime family adapting to the changes wrought by the Ring of Fire in "One Man's Junk," in which a family of blacksmiths re-evaluate their understanding of the proper division of labor in a smithy, based as it is upon the guild system which arose in the later Middle Ages. One of the biggest cognitive dissonances I found in this story was having one of the characters be named "Adolf,"and constantly having to remind myself that to downtimers that name is just another man's first name, and doesn't have any of the dark associations that has led to it becoming effectively taboo in our own time and place.

In "Chip's Christmas Gift" Russ Rittgers takes the character of Julie Simms MacKay's former boyfriend and transforms him from merely a spear-carrier, a foil to be brushed aside and then forgotten, into a full-fledged character through his friendship with an aristocratic family who has seen the light and realized that they must change with the world if they are not to be brushed aside as the German nobility were in our own world. Chip has also grown since the day he tried to fight a sword with a pool cue, and has developed a substantial musical talent he'd never noticed when he was getting glory as the high school football star.

Dan Robinson tells a story about starting over in "Dice's Drawings." Dice Clifford was a Linotype operator and pressman, just ready to retire with a hefty retirement account and a cabin on a nearby lake when the Ring of Fire took it all away and dropped him in a world where he suddenly has to find a new way to make a living. But all he knows is the printing business, and far too many of those skills depend upon machines that won't be duplicated for years, even decades -- probably more than the years he has left.

"The Class of '34" by Kerryn Offord tells the story of the accident at the quarry which was part of the backstory of 1635: The Dreeson Incident. When I read the novel, the way that the details of the event were simply taken for granted made me wonder if they had been recounted in more detail elsewhere. This can be a major problem as a series grows, particularly if it is growing in the sort of non-linear way that the 1632-verse has -- stories may build upon a number of different stories written by various authors, but there is no way of being certain that any given reader has actually read all the stories being referenced -- yet at the same time the author does not want to give so much information about backstory events as to bore the reader who has indeed already read them.

In "Magdeburg Marines: The Few and the Proud" Jose J. Clavell gives us the story of how the USE got its Marine Corps, which was mentioned during the establishment of the USE embassy in 1634: The Galileo Affair. Of course the USE is largely a landlocked nation, so its Marine Corps will take a different form from its parent organization in the world they left behind. But it's interesting to see how the transplanted US Marines adapt the concepts they learned in order to fit them into a brand new world.

Ernest Lutz and John Zeek give us "Elizabeth," which tells the story of one of the leaders of the tacrail project, which was building narrow-gauge railroads for tactical support in a world with no good overland transportation. It is also the story of a woman's attempt to keep alive some fragment of her Louisiana heritage, whether in the spicy cooking of her swampy home state, so different from the foods commonly eaten by West Virginia hill folk, or in organizing a brass band to play New Orleans-style jazz.

In the Continuing Serials department we have David Carrico with another story of Franz Sylwester and Marla Linder. After a visit to Dr. Nichols dashes any hope that uptime medicine might be able to restore Franz's smashed hand, the surgeon then suggests that it may be possible to rehabilitate it enough that Franz may be able to play with a modified technique. And then he receives word that a family of instrument makers have arrived in Grantville to study uptime instrument making techniques, and particularly the instrument known as a piano, about which they have heard so much in recent months. However, once they arrive and are able to talk to Marla, who is actually knowledgeable in the technologies involved in building pianos, they discover that it may not be so easy as they had thought -- leading to the pun that forms the basis of the title, one that is almost impossible for Marla to explain to the downtimers, so they have no way to understand why it should be so amusing to her.

As usual, the volume is wound up with a set of articles on various technical topics, ranging from drilling for oil to re-inventing the textiles technologies that drove the Industrial Revolution in our own world. There are even two completely different articles on machine guns combined into one.

Table of Contents

Preface by Eric Flint

Fiction

  • "The Anatomy Lesson" by Eric Flint
  • "Poor Little Rich Girls" by Paula goodlett and Gorg Huff
  • "'Til We Meet Again" by Virginia DeMarce
  • "One Man's Junk" by Karen Bergstralh
  • "Chip's Christmas Gift" by Russ Rittgers
  • "Dice's Drawings" by Dan Robinson
  • "The Class of '34" by Kerryn Offord
  • "Magdeburg Marines: The Few and the Proud" by Jose J. Clavell
  • "Elizabeth" by Ernest Lutz and John Zeek

Continuing Serials

  • "Heavy Metal Music" byDavid Carrico

Fact

  • "Drillers in Doublets" by Iver P. Cooper
  • "How to Keep Your Old John Deere Plowing" by Allen W. McDonnell
  • "How to Build a Machine Gun in 1634 with Available Technologies: TwoAlternative Views"
    • First alternative by Leonard Hollar, Tom Van Natta and John Zeek
    • Second alternative by Bob Hollingsworth
  • A Looming Challenge by Pam Poggiani

Review posted April 15, 2009

Buy Grantville Gazette IV (Ring of Fire) (v. 4) from Amazon.com