Predictable yet effective

March 12, 2004

A couple of days ago I read Anna's Story by Loren Jones, Chapter 1 in the Grantville Gazette, a collection of stories edited by Eric Flint and set in his 1632 universe.

I found Jones' story somewhat predictable, well enough written, and, at the end, suprisingly emotional and effective. I teared up - Jones succeeded in the storyteller's task of making us care about the characters. It is short, and worth a read.

More on Flint and 1632 below the fold.

I have written about Flint before, praising him because he writes for a general audience but thinks like a historian.

His 1632 takes a basic premise - the modern citizen in the medieval world - and adds some fascinating twists. H. Beam Piper's Lord Kalvan is one of the earliest and most influential of the genre, but it has become a staple. Unlike, say, Jerry Pournelle's Janissaries, Flint focuses on ideas and not tools. And, unlike the tendency in military science fiction to glorify the general, Flint's heros are like Delderfield's heros - common people who rise to the occasion. 1632 is a remarkable book for several reasons. To summarize the plot, a cosmic plot device lifts a five mile circle around a town in rural West Virginia and drops it in Germany during the 30-year's war.

The three that jump out at me about the novel are:
- the hero is a labor organizer for the UMWA, not a general and certainly not an authoritarian;
- the most important technology brought into the past is basic civics, not the traditional guns, machines, and division of labor.;
- the most important institution in the book is the modern American comprehensive public high school.

Flint originally intended the novel as a stand alone. It did well, so he went on with it, writing a sequel, 1633, that continued the story and that set up a narrative structure for multiple follow-ons in the same world.

That world has proved to be remarkably popular among the fan base, with people taking on the challenge of what tools and ideas would be effective then, asking how to downgrade modern technology to the early modern era, and even thinking about the intellectual and cultural chasms between the two eras. Some folks started writing fan fiction in his world, and Flint combined the best of it into the Grantville Gazette, including the story that inspired this little rant. I like watching the way that he has incorporated his fan base into the writing process, creating a forum to collect their ideas, asking for their suggestions, and working some of their characters into his novels. Someone at a science fiction con once mentioned to me that you can find out anything by asking a science fiction fan, and it is true.

Finally, the story I linked to is online because Baen Books has a truly remarkable project where they post books from their backlist online, complete and unabridged, free for the download. Their gamble, a gamble that seems to be working well for them, is that they will lose few sales from cannibilization while introducing their authors to a wider audience, and that people who read one thing by an author for free will go out and buy that author's newer books. So far, every author in their free library has seen sales pick up, including sales of the books in that free library. It is a remarkable project, and should be encouraged.

So, read the story above, read in Flint's world, and buy more books. Books are good for you.

Now I get to go edit chapter 4, a project I just procrastinated for 30 minutes.

Posted by Red Ted at March 12, 2004 12:03 PM | TrackBack

Thank you for the link to the publisher, but, Lord knows, I don't need anymore books. At this stage of the game I'm going to just start throwing tablecloths over the stacks and use them as furniture.

Posted by: Melanie at March 12, 2004 08:43 AM
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