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Grantville Gazette V by Eric Flint, ed

Cover art by Tom Kidd

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

In this volume the printed Grantville Gazette series takes another step away from the electronic version. In the first four volumes, the electronic stories and articles were simply reprinted with the addition of a story by Eric Flint that was tied in some way with the cover art of the print volume (which was not identical to the cover art of the electronic issue).

However, as he explains in his Editor's Preface, the passing years made this plan increasingly untenable. Because of differing budget constraints, the electronic versions were being published at a greater frequency than the print ones, resulting in the print volumes falling ever further behind, to the point that it would be decades before the current electronic issues could hope to see dead-tree publication. So the system of reproducing the electronic editions directly into print was abandoned in favor of a "best of" format which would collect stories from a number of electronic editions.

This schema will stop the steady slippage of the print edition behind the electronic one, but in the process will leave behind many of the electronic edition's stories. As a result, anyone who wants to read those stories will have to buy the electronic edition as well, which may not set well with people who dislike reading off a screen (or people who are dependent upon public libraries for their fiction reading). In addition, the new format does not include any of the articles, which were often as interesting as the fiction.

Following the pattern established in the earlier volumes, this one also opens with Eric Flint's new story written just for the print volume and coordinated with the cover art. "Steady Girl" continues the story of the redevelopment of aviation, this time shifting the focus to the Kelly family, who were Jesse Wood's rivals in the race to get a working airplane. Now the Kellys have a number of working aircraft, although unlike the Gustavs that are being built for the USE air force, they're not a standardized model but a collection of one-offs, each with its own quirks. However, that very peculiarity may make them useful for a plan Eddie Junker and some of his friends have hatched.

My one real caveat about this story is that it ties very heavily into 1635: The Eastern Front, to the point that it may not really stand on its own. However, I've noticed that a number of the stories have seemed to assume that everyone had read all the previously published volumes and was up on the activities of all the various characters.

The next story, "Schwarza Falls" by Doublas W. Jones, is another take on the events of the first several chapters of 1632. Told through a series of documents, it explores the first tentative contacts between the people of Grantville and of Schwarzburg, a castle and town right on the edge of the Ring of Fire. One of the interesting aspects of this method of presentation is getting to see each side through the eyes of the other, without the filters of a narrative voice. Thus we see the astonishment of the locals as they see for the first time modern rescue and recovery procedures in action at the pit where several homes in their village fell.

Most of the stories in the Grantville Gazette series have been about people for whom the Ring of Fire opened new opportunities. But it's only logical that there'll be some people for whom it represents the irreparable destruction of their lives, for whom every day now is another contest of endurance in the face of unremitting despair. In "Recycling" Philip Schillawski and John Rigby give us the story of LeeAnn Sanderlin, an older woman who was in Grantville looking at retirement homes when the Ring of Fire fell. With limited resources and no connections, she's found her new life an unending row of humiliations and privations, to the point that the former fitness maven has taken to the bottle in a big way. However, this isn't a lit'ry Perfect Gem of Despair, and there is a eucatastrophic turn of her fortunes when she learns to see something familiar in a new light.

Anette Pedersen's "A Question of Faith" gives us another view of Prince Ulrik of Denmark, who was such an important figure in 1634: The Baltic War. I'm not entirely sure if I'm comfortable with the idea that he made an incognito visit to Grantville before his appearance in that novel, but Eric Flint has approved this story for publication not only in the electronic version but in the paper volume as well, so it looks like it's going to be a canonical event that stands in the larger timeline of the universe.

Deer season is an important part of the culture of West Virginia, and in "Got My Buck" Barry C. Swift shows us how the American system of hunting licenses would look to Germans accustomed to hunting being strictly a privilege of the nobility. It's a very short story, probably qualifying as flash fiction, but it's simultaneously insightful and funny.

Another very short piece is Victor Klimov's "The Dalai Lama's Electric Buddha." While most stories about the Ring of Fire have focused on its immediate vicinity, perhaps going as far afield as Spain or Scandanavia, Klimov shows us that artifacts, particularly small trinkets of the sort we take for granted, are apt to travel far from their source, perhaps passing through many hands as they make their way across whole continents. And in the course of those journeys, they may take on a significance quite different from the way they would originally be understood.

Technology is Grantville's stock in trade -- right from the beginning, those too wise to superstitiously throw around accusations of witchcraft recognize these newcomers as paramount craftsmen, working with a skill far beyond anything known downtime. In "Canst Thou Send Lightnings" Rick Boatright gives us a new perspective on the Voice of America,, which was mentioned in passing in 1633. However rich the wealth of technological knowledge they've brought with them may be, a lot of it is in fact theoretical, and there's the major problem of translating it into practice from materials such as encyclopedias which were intended only to give a student an overview of the material. Not to mention that downtimers will often have a very interesting perspective on things we take for granted.

From the very beginning, the Club 250 had a reputation as a den of redneck bigotry. In "Grantville's Greatest Philosopher?" Terry Howard pokes a little fun at its denizens -- and at downtimers' perceptions of uptimers. Still, even a fool can be wise at times, as Forrest Gump amply demonstrated in the movie of that name.

In "The Painter's Gambit" Iver P. Cooper tells us a common story -- the young man who must perform some challenge in order to win the hand of his lady love from a father skeptical about his suitability -- with an unusual twist. Most of us take the modern game of chess for granted, and have a tendency to assume that the rules have been standardized since the back of forever. In actuality, even as late as the 1600's the rules were still in flux, with various locales having their own tradition. Add into that a town where suitors must defeat their prospective fathers-in-law at chess and children study the game from childhood, and you've got quite an interesting mix.

John Zeek's "The Minstrel Boy" belongs in the TacRail sequence of stories, but it tells a personal rather than technical tale. Young Hagen just wants to be able to do something useful, and is growing increasingly frustrated with the endless procession of studies he's having to deal with.

Food is one of our most basic necessities, but while our bodies can get by on some pretty meager stuff, the familiar and tasty is often important for morale, as Chris Racciato shows us in "A Taste of Home." Daphne Pridmore and her husband are the sort who are always tinkering and fiddling, and as a result not all the projects that they began always get followed through. And among them were some hot peppers for Tabasco sauce -- something both of them have been longing for now that their last bottle of store-bought ran out ages ago and there's nowhere to buy any more. As it turns out, they've got more than they need -- which means they may well have a market, if they can figure out how to plug into it.

In "N.C.I.S.: Young Love Lost" Jose J. Clavell brings modern police investigation techniques to the Seventeenth Century, Of course our protagonists' situation is complicated by politics, not to mention institutional issues which come from grafting procedures that presuppose modern systems of jurisprudence onto a much older form of law enforcement. Not to mention the fact that our two doughty investigators are also husband and wife, so that they have the problem of balancing their personal and professional relationships. But when you come down to it, the story's still your basic police procedural -- we've got two dead bodies, and it's the job of law enforcement professionals to determine who the culprits are and see that they face justice so the victims' families can have closure and would-be wrongdoers will know they will face punishment if they do likewise.

Kim Mackey's "The Prepared Mind" gives us a story of the importance of the ability to recognize what one has in hand, and to improvise solutions. It starts with the usual problem -- Grantville has brought back an enormous fund of knowledge, but putting it to work in practical ways may well be the work of several lifetimes. However, there are times when an unexpected solution may present itself, and it's possible that a downtimer will actually be more likely to see it, for the simple reason that he or she doesn't have the settled expectations of how things are done shaped by a lifetime of experience with the technology.

On the other hand, downtimers' perceptions of uptime technology as miraculous can also be problematic, as we see in Richard Evans' "Capacity for Harm." We have a former witch-hunter who's found himself a new way to scam his way through life -- electric cure-all machines, reminiscent of some of the quackery that was floating around in the nineteenth century. However, in the end he outwits himself quite satisfactorily.

In "Little Angel" Kerryn Offord gives us a story of what happens when the people of Grantville lose access to things they take for granted -- in this case, tetanus vaccines. Suddenly any wound, even a scratch, that gets dirt into it can be the breeding ground for the deadly bacteria, and there's no treatment against it. However, the sudden death of one of the youngest may be what gets the right skills and resources pulled together to unshelve a veterinarian's project and save future children.

The sufferings of children are also at the center of David Carrico's "None So Blind," but here we have not just the cruel blows of nature, but human malice as well in the form of a Fagin running a string of child beggars, living pretty comfortably on the money they gain by panhandling. Against this brutal Uncle is matched a pair of police officers, one uptime and the other downtime, who are at the same time struggling to bring modern professional policing and even the concept of due process of law to a time when the city watch was often little better than an organized group of bandits who just happened to work for the local authorities. It's quite interesting to see Byron Chieske using Biblical quotations to build his moral case for due process of law with his downtime partner, Gotthilf Hoch.

From a serious story about law enforcement, we go to a more humorous take on downtimer views of the uptime historical memory in Bradley H. Sinor's "On the Matter of D'Artagnan." Although The Three Musketeers, whether the original Dumas novel or the various film adaptations, is fictional, the central protagonist was loosely based upon an actual historical figure -- although the real D'Artagnan was actually more important a few decades later, as Louis XIV, the Sun King, was coming into his own as an independent ruler. However, it's a fair bet that Cardinal Richelieu will take an interest in it, since the fictional version contains a heavily fictionalized version of himself as a Villain of the Blackest Dye. On the other hand, Richelieu is a man of both good sense and a fair sense of humor, so he's not apt to react so brutally as King Charles I. Far from it, he may well decide to forestall events by turning potential enemies to his own side instead of trying to crush them.

Most of us know what a dirty story is -- it's about ess-ee-eks. Or is it? I still remember participating in a library barcoding project that required us to go through the entire collection, including books that hadn't been touched for months or even years. You should've heard all of us library staff snickering as we washed our begrimed hands after touching all those filthy books -- which were in fact for the most part technical materials of such utter dryness that nobody who wasn't looking for some specific bit of information would ever venture to look at them. But there are other kinds of filth, as Aamund Breivik's "A Filthy Story" chronicles the woes of a soldier set to dealing with a badly-laid sewer pipe, in the middle of winter when all that backed-up sewage, including the solids, are frozen into a nasty, slushy mess. A filthy story indeed, made even nastier by a corrupt officer -- but he will get his just deserts in the end.

Karen Bergstrahl gives us another story of greed gone awry in "The Treasure Hunters." It begins with a nerdy youngster with a fascination with Ancient Egypt, and the two bullies who try to steal the book he's just gotten on Interlibrary Loan because it's so funny to see the runt squeal. When he and his family are thrown back in time along with the rest of Grantville, he soon gets some new friends who actually admire him for his interests instead of scorning him. Unfortunately, one of those friends has an uncle who is as much a con artist as a merchant, and who sees in Michael's archaeology books a guide to digging up buried treasure. However, the Egypt of the 1600's is not a place as welcoming to Europeans and other infidels as the Egypt of the 1800's, so it looks like those treasures are going to wait until real archeologists can study them properly, in their proper context.

Russ Rittgers gives us a happier story in "Bathing with Coal," in which a downtime bathhouse owner who initially is angry at the uptimers for disrupting her business instead discovers that their knowledge and technology may actually be able to build it into something she wouldn't have dared to imagine.

In "Lessons in Astronomy," Peter Hobson shows us that all the shiny gosh-wow aspects of uptime technology don't always translate into practical improvements in procedures. Father Christopher Scheiner was a very famous downtime astronomer -- he shows up during the trial of Galileo in 1634: The Galileo Affair. However, when he tries to read up on uptime astronomical knowledge, he finds himself quite completely at sea, so the newly-minted Cardinal Mazarre sends him to Grantville's local astronomy bug. Only one problem -- Johnnie Farrell is just a hobbyist, relying almost entirely upon his technological gizmos to find the stars he wants to look at -- and those are designed to look for positions uptime, rendering it quite useless for finding where a given heavenly body would be seen in 1635. Farrell knows about some of the theoretical aspects of astrophysics, but he doesn't have the math -- calculus in particular -- to really understand it and explain it to the padre. So their first meeting very nearly ends in frustration, until they realize the most important lesson the heavens have to teach us, about that which is greater than ourselves.

From the heavens we return to more practical earthly things in Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett's "Wish Book." One of the most frustrating things about early industrial production is getting mass-produced merchandise to widely distributed markets. In the early nineteenth century Richard Sears found one solution in mail-order, creating a catalog of wares that could be ordered and which would be shipped to the buyer. However, replicating the system in the 1600's may be a little trickier, particularly when the Germanies, unlike the early US, are still divided into a multiplicity of sovereign principalities. And of course there's the problem of capital, and of dealing with people who have no concept of drop-shipping. Or even of something so simple as the concept of a wardrobe model. However, some misunderstandings can turn out to have surprisingly happy endings.

Jay Robison gives us another take on dreams in "O For a Muse of Fire," in which a downtime crew seeks to do an adaptation of an uptime movie to create the first downtime cinematographic production. Except we get to see all the problems that can plague a modern Hollywood production, including a director in love with his own cleverness and a screenwriter who doesn't want his name associated with the results. It also features the Inn of the Maddened Queen which was so important in "Painter's Gambit."

In "Pilgrimage of Grace" Virginia DeMarce shows us what happens to the family of someone who's been disgraced. There seems to be some deep-rooted human drive to treat certain kinds of disgrace as contagious, spilling out onto the whole family, including innocent children. Maybe Johnny Lee was technically guilty of mutiny and technically did deserve to be executed, but his kids don't deserve to be treated like pond scum -- not just ignored, but actively bullied and subjected to social cruelty. But the only way to get it stopped would be to publicly exonerate him, and the authorities all feel that the long-term social and political effects of reducing the negative example would far outweigh the reduction in suffering of the innocent family members. Worse, when one of the preschool teachers tries to buck the tide of ostracism, the very people who are being victimized have to tell her to stop lest her children be treated as if they're contaminated as well. There's no happy ending to this story, although I really hope that Kamala and her kids will someday be able to find some place where they can settle without being treated as suspect elements.

The final story, Mark Huston's "Twenty-eight Men," is one of the longest stories in the anthology. When Grantville's coal mine was put back into operation, they had to do it with inadequate equipment and a lot of downtime workers unaccustomed to modern working methods and safety procedures. Even without corporate greed driving deliberate corner-cutting on safety, it's a recipe for disaster -- and this is the story of that disaster. A confluence of factors --- geological, meteorological, and human -- all work together to make for a very nasty situation. It becomes even worse when, instead of fleeing as procedure demands, a group of miners in an unaffected part of the mine instead follow instincts honed by the comeraderie of battle and go to rescue their stricken fellows, thus putting themselves in danger they might have escaped. It's a heart-rending story, but in the end we are reminded that these are not just worker-ants being expended to help somebody's bottom line, but fellow fighters for a new world in which the essential dignity of everyone, no matter how lowly, is respected.

Eric Flint winds the anthology up with some information about the Grantville Gazette submissions procedures and guidelines, so anybody who wants to put their own hand to writing in the universe can get started on the right foot.

Table of Contents

  • Editor's Preface by Eric Flint
  • "Steady Girl" by Eric Flint
  • "Schwarza Falls" by Douglas W. Jones
  • "Recycling" by Philip Schillawski and John Rigby
  • "A Question of Faith" by Annette Pederson
  • "Got My Buck" by Barry Swift
  • "The Dalai Lama's Electric Buddha" by Victor Klimov
  • "Canst Thou Send Lightnings?" by Rick Boatright
  • "Grantville's Greatest Philosopher?" by TErry Howard
  • "Painter's Gambit" by Iver P. Cooper
  • "The Minstrel Boy" by John Zeek
  • "A Taste of Home" by Chris Racciato
  • "N.C.I.S.: Young Love Lost" by Jose J. Clavell
  • "The Prepared Mind" by Kim Mackey
  • "Capacity for Harm" by Richard Evans
  • "Little Angel" by Kerryn Offord
  • "None So Blind" by David Carrico
  • "On the Matter of D'Artagnan" by Bradley H. Sinor
  • "A Filthy Story" by Aamund Breivik
  • "Treasure Hunters" by Karen Bergstralh
  • "Bathing with Coal" by Russ Rittgers
  • "Lessons in Astronomy" by Peter Hobson
  • "Wish Book" by Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett
  • "O For a muse of Fire" by Jay Robison
  • "Pilgrimage of Grace" by Virginia DeMarce
  • "Twenty-eight Men" by Mark Huston
  • "An Afterward on Doctor Johnson" by Eric Flint
  • Submissions to the Magazine

Review posted June 7, 2011.

Buy Grantville Gazette V: N/A (The Ring of Fire) from Amazon.com

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