Grantville Gazette II Mass Market Paperback – Oct 30 2007
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"Gripping and expertly detailed a treat for lovers of action science fiction or alternative history." Publishers Weekly" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Eric Flint's impressive first novel, Mother of Demons (Baen), was selected by SF Chronicle as one of the best novels of 1997. With David Drake he has written six popular novels in the Belisarius series, including the new novel The Dance of Time, and with David Weber collaborated on 1633 and 1634: The Baltic War, novels in the Ring of Fire series, and on Crown of Slaves, a best of the year pick by Publishers Weekly. Flint received his masters degree in history from UCLA and was for many years a labor union activist. He lives in East Chicago, IL, with his wife, and is working on more books in the best-selling Ring of Fire series.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Often enough, the stories read well, they just don't come to any sort of a satisfying conclusion. One is left with the feeling, "so what?" This is true for the little known authors as well as for Eric Flint, the originator. They are not awful, they just are not all that good.
Even so, the series interests me enough that I will continue to buy and read it. I just hope for something better next time.
As to the technical essays, some were of interest to me and others not. The ones that were interesting were well written and covered several interesting points.
The longest story here is about the reform of medical education in Germany as it existed in the 17th century. A fierce academic struggle ensues to meld it with modern "miraculous" knowledge that has, unfortunately but predictably, run out of its modern supplies and lacks the industry to easily replace them. While clearly off the "main line" of the grand political confrontations presented in the novels set in the "1632" world, a story like this illustrates the great value of the GG anthologies. Inclusion of such details would clearly bog down the already big novels, far beyond the many necessary asides on historical matters they already contain. Yet these short stories answer the very questions that are asked by fascinated readers of the series. In fact, the articles, and stories, are submitted by readers online, and edited to conform with and advance the overall saga. The series is an intellectual adventure in Alternate History, full of yes, how would I have done that, moments. The stories are also fun when recognizable European "real" people of those distant times pop up, like Galileo or Cromwell.
Although not excessively militarized, these stories often have the prose of military fiction: can-do, go-get-em, optimistically cynical, capsulized, declarative prose. Nothing wasted on evocative description, ambiance, atmosphere, flawed characters, or fancy words. Nor are they in the least amateurish, strongly edited by Eric Flint, who has become the choreographer of the series.
I would expect more anxiety and desperation in these stories, and the series. Surely there was constant danger around these "colonists" from another time. Humor is laced through the stories, okay, but the characters also seem little worried by the harsh forces around them. Maybe short stories cannot be expected always to acknowledge those wider problems, but the later novels also lack this element of suspense. The uptime Americans and their allies don't seem to lose even the little schemes or conflicts. The enemies are obviously "bad," often over the top evil, while the good guys cleverly triangulate the fundamental forces, but of course are never sneaky. They are suitable paragons for teenage readers. All the good W. Va. union men who lead Grantville act like they only manipulate situations and never busted a head. One never has the sense of grit, dread or awe one finds in Bernard Cornwell's books of continental conflict.
In GG factual articles are presented in a more or less accessible style. Allthough they can be skipped by those interested only in the "action," at no loss to understanding the action, they provide a depth of research that the authors of the fiction observe and that enlarges the novels in particular. For example, there is a wonderful discussion of the obstacles the up-timers will have finding their essential modern ores and minerals in medieval Germany. That article reviews the new geological setting of Grantville, and what its inhabitants could potentially find to sustain the industries necessary to withstanding and overcoming many hostile political and economic forces. "Wonderful" at least to natural scientists among the readers. However, it becomes clear that the manpower, skills and knowledge needed will have to involve the recruitment of native local people if the 3500 Americans have any hope of surviving and flourishing, and then bringing democracy and wealth to millions in Europe. These considerations will constrain how and when characters will make guns, bullets, containers, ships, and railroad steel, and why we won't see metal aeroplanes any time soon--even if these ground facts are not explicitly written in to future stories. I hope in future the GG will present some actual short biographies of the leading historical down-timers. Of course authors wouldn't want to give away what might be coming up in future stories (although those must increasingly vear from the historical record, mustn't they, now that up-timers have contaminated "our" history).
This is a most unusual, and in my mind a very historical series since it's roots are not just the fruits of one author's thoughts, but based on the ideas and experience of hundreds. Yes hundreds, perhaps thousands. Since 2000 the marvelous webform Baen's Bar [...] has had a niche called 1632 Tech, which initially continued discussions started over in David Webers dedicated forum 'Buships'. After a friendly 'eviction' to the new 1632 Tech forum the discussions continued and picked up steam. It is certain that Eric Flint had not intended the lead book in the series '1632' to be the first of a series--he's said so, multiple times. But when the public calls, an author rethinks his schedule and begins considering feasibility and plot elements. This is what took place on the bar in those days, and has ever since in 1632 Tech. At some point the public won, and Eric conceded to do a sequel and the cheers began.
That concession produced the '1633' novel co-written by NYT best selling author David Weber, which appears under Webers by-line 'first listed author' (Marketing!!!) as the (then) better known author due to the arcane habits of print publication.
But the 1632 Tech forum activity also caused Flint to do something very unusual--he made a decent and perhaps even noble public acknowledgement of his debt to Fans and the whole tubful of published authors that contributed to the frenzied furor of seething ideas on 1632 Tech--He officially opened up his milieu to accept stories from writers and wanabee's. This created an unusual thing--a co-sequel, 'THE RING OF FIRE, albeit published somewhat later--an eponymous reference to the 'miracle' that created the storyline in it's 17th century setting; one smack dab in the middle of the horrendous Thirty Years War (Just for spice, no doubt!). This long work was essentially were co-written at the same time as the 1633 sequel, and both works influenced and shaped the other.
In a single word, both are 'canonical' for the milieu-- i.e. part of the official background for what comes later. Another result is the opening of the Baen's Bar '1632 Slush' (A 'Slushpile' in editor-speak refers to the stack(s) of unsolicited manuscripts that need read and vetted) forum, a place for wanabees (and a few published writers!!!) to submit stories within the milieu for 'Peer Review' and critical editing.
Both Flint and Jim Baen agreed when setting this up to stay out of it, and eventually when the stories were 'Ripe' they were commended to Eric for another anthology. This brought about in succession, first an expermental eMagazine 'The Grantville Gazette' then the expermental publishing of that as a trade paperback and then five more 1632verse anthologies all published first as eMagazines, then eBooks. This book, the Grantville Gazette II, is the second of the six and like all six--again a very remarkable characteristic in a series--all the works published by Baen in any format are considered canon for the series per Eric Flint. So not only are they high quality and tried by fire by picky knowledgable co-fans, but they are the cream of what ferment has been going on 1632 Tech now in it's sixth year, and shape the background and characters that appear in the series' novels.
Many authors have 'loaned' their milieu to others, or equally, invited them for a short story or two, but the standard tradition heretofore has been the works were performed off to the side some where--formulated so they wouldn't impact the main storylines which were held to be sacrosanct to the author that owned it. Well Eric Flint has maintained editorial control, but he has also wrought several new and wonderful things in developing this rich and wondrous mish-mash of novels and short-stories by essentially conceding to restrict his plot developments to the 'neohistorical' framework as are embodied by these shorter works collected into anthologies and then thrice released. A big part of the appeal of this series is Flint's rejection of the importance of 'Big Men' in history and the counter thesis that historical forces are instead made up by the many individuals choosing this over that and sweeping together collectively into a new dawn. These are the stories as seen from that ground level and they are special in their own right.
Others above have commented on the hilarious 'The Company Men', and I too give it kudos. I did not find 'An Invisible War' at all wordy, and suspect that as a tale it will have far more impact within the canon than the former. It deals with Medicine and Education from our day meeting and coming to terms with Medical practices and practioners and the Educational establishment rooted in late-middle age practices, and ... (I won't spoil the plot, suffice it to say, it was very well done and I violated my implicit contract with Baen's by immediately forwarding that story as an RTF file to no less than seven friends I know in medicine related fields. I did pennance by running down the HC the very next day!)
'Bottom Feeders' is a delightful murder mystery complicated by anti-germanic predjudices, and 'Collateral Damage' featured the Airforce giving Richelieu a taste of the future in a thought provoking good tale. 'Just One of Those Days' is written from the viewpoint of a Gustavus' II cavalry trooper and it's dry wit ended far too soon. 'God's Gifts' is a interesting and quite readable vignette that could have been much longer and sadly wasn't--it covered the difficulty's likely faced by the 'approved' German churches when faced with the modern practices of religious toleration and ecumenicalism. In truth, for my part Eric Flint's own 'Steps in the Dance' is the weakest work in the collection and his writing is never weak in any general sense. So buy it early and often. It's good stuff. If you're already into the series, as a canonical work, the decision's a no brainer. Incidently, I gave me 84 y.o. Mom '1632' for Mother's Day last year. :-)