Eric Flint's 1632 & Beyond: Alternate History Stories

1632: A (Manly!) Soap Opera

Eric Flint in Shakespearean attire
Eric Flint in Shakespearean attire
Eric Flint in Shakespearean attire

In the 1632 novels, you get—more or less—The Big Picture featuring the Stars of the Story. In the 1632 anthologies, you get basically more of the same, simply with a narrower and tighter focus and (often but not always) featuring a worthy character actor who gets his or her day to strut on the stage.

What do you get in the Gazette? All the shenanigans of everybody else, that’s what. The damn spear-carriers, run amok. Slice of life story piled onto family sagas—functional and dysfunctional alike—and all of it ladled over with a heavy scoop of personal melodrama.

I mean, honestly.

Who cares—just to name one example—if Karen Bergstralh’s woebegone blacksmith gets around the oppression of the guild-masters and starts setting up his own successful business? Who cares—to name another example—if the pimply-faced American teenager in Jay Robinson’s “Breaking News” wins the heart of the (hopefully not acne-ridden) teenage daughter of a downtime artist who is only remembered by art connoisseurs?

(The mother, not the daughter—nobody except scholars remembered the daughter, for Pete’s sake, until Jay dragged her out of historical obscurity.)

Shall I go on? Who cares if Velma Hardesty’s daughters escape from the Horrible Mother’s clutches, in Goodlett and Huff’s “Susan Story”? Just to make it worse, from what I can tell about a dozen other writers seem to have become infatuated with Wicked Velma, and it looks like we’ll be getting a small cottage industry cropping up of “Velma Gets Her Just Desserts” stories.

Sigh. Not one of these stories deals with Ye Big Picture. Not one of them fails to wallow in the petty details of Joe or Dieter or Helen or Ursula’s angst-ridden existence.

Pure, unalloyed, soap opera, what it is.

There are times I think of just throwing up my hands and publishing all of the stories in the Gazette as “continuing serials.” And, in my darker moments, contemplate changing the title of the magazine to The 1632 Soap Opera. That’s because, like a soap opera, the characters just seem to go on forever and ever in one episode after another. Unless one of them is actually Killed Off—and then, sometimes, you don’t really know For Sure—they’ll keep re-appearing. Often enough, in somebody else’s episode.

On the other hand, I’m not a snob about soap operas. I used to be, until many years ago my wife’s work schedule required me to tape her favorite soap opera so she could watch it when she got home. Initially, I did so holding my nose—and bound and determined to watch only the first few minutes to make sure it was taping properly. This was back in the early days of VHS when I didn’t trust the technology involved. (And still don’t, but I admit I’m something of a technophobe.)

Before a week had passed, I found myself watching the entire damn episode! Day after day! It was then that I first discovered just how addictive soap operas could be. In defense of the Gazette, I will say that the characters in this soap opera are wrestling with a far broader range of concerns than the usual fare of love pining from afar, emotional misunderstandings that somehow last for years when a simple five-minute conversation could settle it, and, of course, the inevitable jealousies and adulteries. Not that the magazine avoids those, either, of course. But the characters also wrestle with political issues, religious issues, worry about their livelihoods and scheme to make a fortune or at least a decent income. In short, the Gazette is an ongoing chronicle of the way an alternate history would actually evolve, if you looked anywhere beyond the narrow circle of Ye Anointed Heroes and Heroines. The distinction between this and a soap opera—or The World’s Great Literature, for that matter—is mainly in the eye of the beholder.

The Gazette is, indubitably, that most lowly and despised of all literary sub-genres. To wit, a soap opera.

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