Eric Flint's 1632 & Beyond: Alternate History Stories

Eric Flint’s Foreword: Grantville Gazette Volume 4

Some remarks on the contents of this fourth volume of the Grantville Gazette:

Once again, I had to go through my usual dance, trying to decide which stories should go under “Continuing Serials” and which should be published as stand-alone stories. This is a dance which, as the Gazette unfolds, is getting . . .

Really, really complicated.

In the end, I parsed the contents of this volume in such a way that only David Carrico’s “Heavy Metal Music” fell into the category of “Continuing Serials.” I am even willing to defend that choice under pressure, although—fair warning—my defense will lean heavily on subtle points covered by Hegel in his Science of Logic. (The big one, not the abridgment he did later for his Encyclopedia. So brace yourselves.)

That said . . .

Well, to give just one example . . .

“Poor Little Rich Girls,” by Paula Goodlett and Gorg Huff, continues the adventures of the teenage tycoons-in-the-making that Gorg began in “The Sewing Circle” in Volume 1 of the Gazette and continued in the story “Other People’s Money” in Volume 3. Eventually, many of these characters will probably appear in a novel that I’m planning to write with the two of them. (As will the characters in David Carrico’s story, in a novel he and I are working on.)

Note: Those books are 1636: The Viennese Waltz and 1636: The Devil’s Opera. The Barbie Consortium is a sequel to The Viennese Waltz by Paula and Gorg, without Eric.

The same will probably prove to be true, sooner or later, with many of the other stories in this volume. The truth? The distinction I make for the Gazette between “continuing serials” and “stand-alone stories” is pretty much analogous to the distinction the law makes between first and second degree murder. The one is premeditated in cold blood; the other more-or-less happens in the heat of the fray.

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.

Humorous Side Note: More than 20 years after 1632 was published, Irene Flannery (killed in the Croat Raid) came back to feature in not one but two novels and several short stories. And she’s not done yet! A Foundation set up in her memory ensures that Irene will not fade away.

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.

Yes, sorry, it is. It is widely known, of course, that only women watch soap operas, just as only women gossip. In my innocent youth, I believed these nostrums, until a quarter of a century working in transportation and factories proved to me how ridiculous they were. You can find no better example in the world of gossip than what machinists are doing standing around the tool crib or truck drivers are doing at lunch tables in a truck stop. Of course, if you ask them, they will insist they are engaged in the manly art of shooting the breeze. Just as, if you ask the electricians and millwrights in the maintenance shop who are watching daytime television while waiting for something to break down that requires their expertise, they will insist they are not actually watching the soap operas showing on the set. No, no. They are merely interested in ogling Whazzername’s figure.

If this state of affairs irritates you, I can only shrug my shoulders. Don’t blame me, blame Homer. To this day, the Iliad stands as one of the world’s all-time great soap operas. The much-hallowed “epic” as it exists today is simply a cleaned-up pile of gossip. What it really was, in its inception, were the stories with which bards entertained the courts of Mycenaean kinglets by chattering about which gods and goddesses lusted for which mortals, their mutual jealousies, and what they did to advance their . . . ah . . . “causes.”

For that matter, blame the Old Testament. Sure, sure, a lot of it deals with Sublime Stuff like the creation of the universe, etc., etc. But there are whole swaths of the books in the Bible that look suspiciously like soap opera plots to me.

It’s not even peculiar to western culture. If you want to read the Greatest Soap Opera of all time, you can do no better than start the massive Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. I say “start,” because you may or may not finish the multi-volume work. (I did finish it, myself. But that was after I’d learned to enjoy a good long-running soap opera.) I believe it is still, to this day, the longest epic ever written.

The word “epic,” of course, is what scholars call a soap opera that was written a long time ago, which gives it the patina of respectability. They will defend their use of terms by pointing to such episodes in the Mahabharata as the philosophical discourse between Krishna and Arjuna which is separately known as the famous Bhagavad Gita.

Very sublime, the Bhagavad Gita; yes, yes, no doubt about it. It’s also just one episode out of a multitude which follow (by and large) the adventures of the five Pandava brothers and the wife they share in common, Draupati. (Don’t blame me! I didn’t come up with the kinky stuff, although it’s sure fun to read about.) One of the central adventures of which involves the sublime subject of how the foolish oldest Pandava brother lost their wife in a game of dice.

So, I figure the Gazette is in good company.

This will be the last paper edition of the Gazette that duplicates in toto the electronic edition (with the inclusion of a new story written by me for the paper edition). Beginning with Grantville Gazette V, which will probably be published some time next year, paper editions of the Gazette will henceforth be selections from several issues of the magazine.

The reason for the shift is simply because the publisher for the paper edition, Baen Books, can’t possibly maintain a one-to-one ratio of paper-to-electronic editions. That was more-or-less feasible when the Gazette first got started, because it was originally a magazine that was only published occasionally, not one with a regular schedule.

Beginning with the eleventh issue of the electronic edition of the Gazette, the magazine’s success enabled us to establish it as a regularly published magazine, paying professional rates, and with a bi-monthly publication schedule. That eleventh issue came out in May of 2007. As of the time this paper edition of Gazette IV starts showing up in bookstores, six more volumes of the magazine will have been produced—which is to say, more volumes that have been published in paper over a four year period.

Baen is a book publisher, not a magazine publisher. Even before the magazine shifted to a bimonthly schedule, the electronic edition had already gotten far ahead of any possible paper publication schedule. At the rate  we were going, the tenth issue of the magazine—which was published a year ago—wouldn’t have come out in paper until sometime in the year 2014. And, as I said, six more volumes have been added since then.

Being a low-minded author, this naturally leads to a sales pitch. I urge anyone interested in the ongoing 1632 series to consider buying a subscription to the electronic magazine. (See details at the back of the book.) You won’t be able to assume, any longer, that whatever gets published will eventually appear in a paper edition.

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