Eric Flint's 1632 & Beyond: Alternate History Stories

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Eric Flint

As you can perhaps deduce from the simple existence of a paper edition of the second volume of the electronic magazine the Grantville Gazette, the first issue—which we did as an experiment, to see if there would be enough interest in such an oddball publication—proved to be successful.

Quite successful, in fact, better than either I or my publisher, Jim Baen, had expected. The magazine’s been doing well, also. Five volumes of the Gazette have been published thus far, with more issues in the works.

Now that I know the Gazette will be an ongoing project, at least in electronic format, I’ve got more leeway in terms of the kind of stories I can include in the magazine. A number of the fiction pieces being written in the 1632 setting are either long or are intended as parts of ongoing stories. There are two examples in this issue: Danita Ewing’s “An Invisible War”and Enrico Toro’s “Euterpe, episode 1.”

In terms of its length, “An Invisible War” is technically a short novel. In the electronic edition, it was serialized over two issues of the magazine, the second half appearing in Volume 3. Since that wouldn’t be suitable for a paper edition, I included the entire novel in this volume.

Enrico Toro’s story is somewhat different. Neither he nor I know what the final length of this story will be. Not to mention that in later volumes of the magazine, his story begins to intertwine with a series written by David Carrico. “Euterpe” is written in the form of episodes, each told in epistolary form by the narrator. I wanted to include it because (along with Gorg Huff’s story, “God’s Gifts”) Toro’s piece approaches the 1632 framework entirely from the angle of how seventeenth-century people react to the events produced by the Ring of Fire.

Most of the stories that appeared in either the first volume of the Gazette or the anthology Ring of Fire approached the situation either entirely or primarily from the standpoint of American up-timers. What I especially liked about the stories by Toro and Huff is that up-timers are never the viewpoint characters. In the case of “Euterpe,” Toro is using an actual historical figure and trying to imagine how a young musician of the time would react to the sudden influx of music written over the next several centuries. In the case of Huff’s story, the character is a fictional Lutheran pastor trying to grapple with the theological implications of the Ring of Fire.

Given that there are a few thousand up-timers in the 1632 setting and tens of millions of down-timers, it seemed about time to me that we started getting more of their view of things into the series.

Although not quite to the same degree, Chris Weber’s short novella “The Company Men” also approaches the setting primarily from the standpoint of seventeenth-century figures. In the case of his story, which is an adventure story, that of two mercenary soldiers of the time. And in John Zeek’s murder mystery “Bottom Feeders,” we get a nice mix of viewpoints.

There’s a nice mix of stories in this issue, I think, in more ways than one. They range from military stories like Mike Spehar’s “Collateral Damage” through stories involving the struggle to establish modern medical care (Ewing’s “An Invisible War”), and everything in between. The same is true for the factual articles, where you’ll get a treatise on seventeenth-century swordplay as well as a discussion of the practical challenges posed by geology and mining in the context of the technical resources available to the characters in the series.

There are a number of questions readers have asked me concerning where the 1632 series is going, the status of various novels in the series—especially 1634: The Baltic War, which is the direct sequel to 1633—and how and where the Gazette fits into that. Since answering those questions takes a fair amount of space, I’ll deal with them in the Afterword at the end of the book. I think prefaces are best kept short and sweet.


Eric Flint

I should take the time here, I think, to explain to interested readers where the Gazette fits into the 1632 series as a whole, and where other projects in the series stand at the moment.

First, a number of readers have asked me when 1634: The Baltic War will be coming out. That’s the direct sequel to 1633, which came out three and a half years ago, in August of 2002. Not surprisingly, many fans of the series have been waiting for it with increasing impatience. Some—though not many, I don’t think—have even been irritated by the appearance of other 1632 titles in the interim, such as 1634: The Galileo Affair.

Let me start with the good news, which is that Dave Weber and I will be starting the novel very soon. For the rest, I sympathize with the impatience of readers who’ve been waiting for it, but I also need to explain the logic of the delay. Yes, there is a logic, it’s not simply because either I or Dave Weber forgot about it. The problem, in a nutshell, is that both Dave and I are writers with a lot of work on our hands and a number of other commitments. That means that getting our schedules to match up well enough for the months it takes to do a collaborative novel is . . . not easy. Since we completed 1633, we’ve had only two windows of opportunity that were long enough to do the trick. The first, in 2003, got taken up with writing Crown of Slaves, a novel that Dave felt was important to the development of his very popular Honor Harrington series. And the second, which was supposed to have been last year, wound up never materializing at all because of a variety of factors.

So it goes. In the meantime, I saw no reason to tie up the other lines of the story that began with 1632 and have kept them chugging along. One of the most important of those lines—call them “side” lines, if you will, but that’s really a misnomer—is the one I began with Andrew Dennis in 1634: The Galileo Affair. Three sequels are planned to Galileo, the first of which Andrew and I now have well underway.

I said that thinking of The Galileo Affair and its sequels as a sideline was a misnomer. In fact, it’s nothing of the sort. True, it began as a separate adventure that was, in a sense, a spin-off from 1632 and 1633. But, as will soon enough become obvious, the ramifications of those events in Italy will have a greater and greater impact on the events taking place in Europe as a whole—indeed, the entire world. My problem, at the moment, is that I can’t prove it to you without revealing the plots of several books that haven’t been published yet. Just . . . take my word for it, please. Trying to determine what’s an “important” story and what isn’t, in this alternate universe, is a lot trickier than it looks at first glance.

Which is the way I intended things, from the moment I decided to turn 1632 from the stand-alone novel it was originally written to be into a series. Whatever else, I am not going to produce a formulaic series, in which one book succeeds another by simply rehashing the same basic material. The world has more than enough of such series, I think.

There’s a second consideration involved, also, which has to do with the way I see this entire story in the first place—and did from the beginning. 1632 was written as much as an American novel as a science fiction or alternate history novel. More precisely, as a novel that fits within that loosely defined literary category known as Americana. In particular, it was written from a desire on my part to make a relatively ordinary American small town the collective protagonist of the story. And then, as the story unfolded, to keep the focus as much as possible on what you might call the level of the common man and woman—understanding that, as the story unfolded, more and more seventeenth-century Europeans would become an integral part of that collective protagonist.

I didn’t do that from some preconceived notions of what constitutes the “right” way to tell a story. I have no objections at all to grand epics. In fact, I just completed one myself: The Dance of Time, the sixth and last volume in the Belisarius series, which by happy coincidence is being published at the very same time as the volume you hold in your hand. (Yes, that’s a shameless plug.)

I’m quite proud of the Belisarius series, as is my coauthor David Drake. Yet, you would be hard-pressed to find too many common men and women in that massive six-volume story. The main characters run almost entirely to emperors, empresses, kings, queens—existing or in the making—and generals and other top commanders. Even the occasional commoner is typically someone like the cataphract Valentinian, who is also universally recognized as one of the greatest swordsmen in the known world.

Grand epics of that sort are a perfectly valid form of fiction and I enjoyed writing the Belisarius series. But the 1632 series is a very different kind of story. One that certainly has its share of great historical figures—it’s enough to mention that Gustavus Adolphus and Cardinal Richelieu are both major characters in it—but always, ultimately, has a different focus.

So, the novels and anthologies that have been or will be produced in the series have a variegated character. Some, like 1633, will center on the “big” issues and the actions of the “big people.” Others, like 1634: The Galileo Affair, will start small and grow . . . very big. The same description could be applied to the immediate sequel to 1634: The Baltic War, which is 1634: The Bavarian Crisis, which I coauthored with Virginia DeMarce. (I should mention, by the way, that we’ve finished the first draft of The Bavarian Crisis, so fans of the series don’t have to worry about another long delay. That book will be coming out soon after The Baltic War.)

There’s yet another level of storytelling in the series, however, and those are stories that start on the ground level and more or less remain there throughout. I was especially concerned to produce stories like this, because the 1632 series is ultimately a story about a great political, religious, social, and economic revolution in Europe begun by the Ring of Fire—and I think people generally have screwy ideas about what revolutions are and how they work. That’s especially true in science fiction, where revolutions have typically been depicted as the product of magical hand waving by a handful of big-shot heroes. They decree, and therefore it is done.

Oh, what a laugh. In the real world, no social phenomenon is as turbulent, complex, contradictory, and downright messy as great revolutions are. The only thing that compares to them are great wars, and wars have the advantage of being (usually) somewhat better organized and under tighter control from the top. Of course, even making the distinction is artificial, since most great revolutions include wars as part of them, foreign as well as civil—and, on the flip side, there has never been a great war in history that didn’t revolutionize many things beyond military tactics and hardware.

As much as anything else, I want to capture that reality in this series. One of the ways I’ll be doing that is by producing—as both the editor and one of the major writers—at least two somewhat unusual anthologies. The first of these is entitled 1634: The Ram Rebellion, and will be published May 2006. The second, which serves partly as a companion volume and partly as a sequel, is entitled 1635: The Torturer of Fulda, and will probably be published about a year later.

These two volumes are anthologies, in the sense that they are comprised of separate stories written by different authors. But, unlike most anthologies, the stories are directly connected to each other—not necessarily in a linear fashion—and, taken as a whole, constitute what amounts to quasi-novels. What both of them deal with is an issue that was initiated at the end of 1632, and then mentioned in 1633 and 1634: The Galileo Affair—usually in passing, although most of Chapter 21 of The Galileo Affair is devoted to it.

The issue is this: At the end of 1632, in the course of the negotiations between Mike Stearns and Gustavus Adolphus that end with the creation of the Confederated Principalities of Europe, the king of Sweden hands over the large and poorly defined region of Germany known as Franconia to the American-dominated little United States (which consists of a portion of Thuringia) to govern and administer. To put it a different way, a big region of a nation is disposed of in exactly one paragraph of the book:

Quentin nodded. “Yeah. And if I’m following the latest twist and turn in the debate, Mike just got half of Franconia added along with the rest of Thuringia. I think he’s shooting for all of it, too.” For a moment, his eyes grew a bit dreamy. “Be one hell of an expansion in the market, that’s for sure. Every business in the U.S. will start growing by leaps and bounds. The railroads alone—” He broke off, scratching his chin worriedly. “Still—”

How sweet it would be . . . to just leave it at that. The President proposes, the king disposes, and everyone does what they’re told and lives happily ever after.

Not hardly. What The Ram Rebellion and The Torturer of Fulda deal with is the messy reality of what really happened after. The story—stories, rather—of how a small number of Americans sent to Franconia fared in that mission. And, just as much, the related and intersecting stories of the Germans who allied with them, or conspired against them, or set their own course—or, often enough, did all three at one time or another.

And so, finally, we come back to the question I posed at the beginning of this afterword: Where does the Grantville Gazette fit in all this?

That’s not an easy question to answer. In the nature of things, being a magazine, the Gazette tends to go wherever the best writers contributing to it decide to take it. As editor, I can direct that process to a degree, but I don’t really try to control it.

More accurately, I don’t want to control it. We started the Gazette because Jim Baen and I thought it would be, if nothing else, an interesting experiment in commercial publishing. Which it has been, on its own terms. But with experience, I’ve learned that the Gazette serves the series as a continual wellspring. It’s a constant source of new ideas, new viewpoints, and new angles on old viewpoints. And, as often as not, the seeds sown in the magazine wind up growing in very unexpected directions, and can produce some very large and luxuriant narratives.

It’s perhaps enough to say that 1634: The Ram Rebellion, which will be coming out soon, began as a series of whimsical in-jokes concerning a scruffy sheep that appeared in one story. Before the issue of the magazine that story was planned for could come out, those little whimsies had produced a crop of other stories, all of them related in one way or another, and often in very odd ways. What, after all, could be the connection between a belligerent ram, an American farmer trying to expand his acreage, a ballet, a peasant rebellion, and a dungeon?

Those of you interested can find out in three months. But remember: it all started in this magazine.

Eric Flint
April 2005

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