The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

From West Virginia To Wroclaw

Posted on | July 4, 2013 | 16 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

This week’s book post unfortunately has nothing to do with Gettysburg or Independence Day (because all my relevant books are in storage), though I do recommend that you pick up Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels if you haven’t already read it; Gingrich and Forstchen’s Gettysburg is also worth reading (along with its sequels Grant Comes East and Never Call Retreat) if you like alternate history Civil War novels.

While recovering from getting a tooth pulled yesterday, I took the time to get partially caught up on what has come to be known as the “Ring of Fire” series of novels, by Eric Flint and an ensemble of co-authors. The series starts in 1632* when the West Virginia town of Grantsville suddenly finds itself in the middle of the Thirty Years War. From that point, the history of the war diverges considerably (and entertainingly) from our timeline, and within a couple of years Grantsville has become the center of the United States of Europe. This collection of (mostly) German and (mostly) Lutheran states under King of the Swedes Gustavus Adolphus is busily trying to adapt 20th -or at least 19th- century technology to the 17th century proto-industrial base while also trying to spread democracy and religious toleration without setting off a gigantic wave of peasant revolts all across Central Europe. Flint and most of his co-authors do a good job with these books, but I have come to the conclusion that one of his co-authors needs to be avoided in the future unless I badly need something to make me bored and sleepy.

After finishing 1634: The Bavarian Crisis , I’ve come to the conclusion that Virginia DeMarce is the literary equivalent of the cook who could burn water. Given a plot line involving a mad king of Bavaria, his unwilling Austrian fiancee, a pair of kidnapped Grantsburg women, and a siege conducted by a sulfurous Swedish general, DeMarce manages to turn it into a 700-page slog through all manner of minor characters’ lives, many of whom have -at best- tangential relation to the main plot line. My rule of thumb is that any novel requiring family trees to explain the relationships of characters who are not main characters is a waste of my time, and probably yours, too, unless you really enjoy convoluted soap operas masquerading as historical novels set in an alternate history. Adding to the boredom is the interminable reflections of the major characters on their fates in our timeline, as if that had very much relevance to their current situation after Grantsville had been mucking up history for going on three years. I don’t recommend it (or her previous collaborations with Flint, The Ram Rebellion and The Dreeson Incident) unless you are a completeness freak, and even then you might want to think twice.

On the other hand, when left to his own devices, Eric Flint does a damn good job. 1635: The Eastern Front begins with Gustavus Adolphus’ decision to reduce the treacherous Saxons and Brandenburgers to obedience, a decision which almost immediately results in war with Poland. Flint manages to juggle a number of other political subplots and minor (but nonetheless important) characters without getting bogged down in pointless minutiae, and winds up delivering something that is less a historical novel set in an alternate history than a technothriller using a weird mix of 17th, 19th and 20th century technologies. He manages to do this, moreover, in just 369 pages, only five of which are spent on a list of characters.

I’m currently reading (and expect to spend a fair bit of the weekend re-reading) Michael Flynn’s On the Razor’s Edge, which I’ll write about next week along with its three outstanding prequels.

Administrative note: There will be no Live At Five today or Friday, no FMJRA on Saturday unless Smitty wants to do one, and no Rule 5 Sunday until Monday since I’m going to be off the Internet all weekend.

*The book’s Kindle edition is currently free for the downloading if you want to try the series on.


16 Responses to “From West Virginia To Wroclaw”

  1. MrEvilMatt
    July 4th, 2013 @ 5:00 am

    From West Virginia To Wroclaw: – by Wombat-socho This week’s book post unfortunately has nothing to do with Ge…

  2. CHideout
    July 4th, 2013 @ 5:00 am

    From West Virginia To Wroclaw: – by Wombat-socho This week’s book post unfortunately has nothing to do with Ge…

  3. jwbrown1969
    July 4th, 2013 @ 5:00 am

    From West Virginia To Wroclaw: – by Wombat-socho This week’s book post unfortunately has nothing to do with Ge…

  4. Lockestep1776
    July 4th, 2013 @ 5:00 am

    From West Virginia To Wroclaw: – by Wombat-socho This week’s book post unfortunately has nothing to do with Ge…

  5. Citzcom
    July 4th, 2013 @ 5:00 am

    From West Virginia To Wroclaw: – by Wombat-socho This week’s book post unfortunately has nothing to do with Ge…

  6. preciseBlogs
    July 4th, 2013 @ 5:12 am

    From West Virginia To Wroclaw #news #conservative #books #blogging

  7. Gahrie
    July 4th, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

    The 1632 Universe is a great read, even if the creator and main author is a flaming Commie. There are several Baen authors who have opened up their universe to allow others to contribute. (Weber and the Honorverse, Ringo and the Posleen War, etc)

  8. BLBeamer
    July 4th, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

    It’s not a novel, but Stephen Sears’ Gettysburg is as good a history of that battle as I’ve ever read. I learned three new things about Gettysburg in the first 25 pages. It’s a page turner, too.

  9. Will_Brown
    July 4th, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

    The thing about the 1632 derivative novels is that Eric Flint issued the mandate from the outset that none of the stories could directly involve any of the principal characters and must be incidental to the primary storyline(s). The idea was always to have stories about peripheral characters and events that didn’t constrain the primary series development.

    Given this, I don’t see how Virginia DeMarce (or any of the other contributors to the Grantsville Chronicles series), who admittedly is not and never attempted to be a stirring action author, could have written anything other than what they have – stories that add detail and context to events and characters not actually being written about.

    Very much harder to pull off than you seem willing to credit.

    Ask me how I know …

  10. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    July 4th, 2013 @ 10:31 pm
  11. Consul At Arms
    July 5th, 2013 @ 5:03 pm
  12. Wombat_socho
    July 7th, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

    Since when are collaborations “derivative novels”? Also, you missed the point of my complaint completely. I don’t object to DeMarce writing about peripheral characters and events. I object to the soul-crushing tedium with which this writing is saturated. Your mileage clearly varies.

  13. Wombat_socho
    July 7th, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

    I like his Landscape Turned Red, which is about Antietam. I’ll have to give Gettysburg a look.

  14. Will_Brown
    July 7th, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    My apologies, I thought you were aware of the origination circumstances of this series of “collaborative novels”.

    Eric Flint solicited short stories from the Baen’s Bar denizens of the day following publication of 1632. He was specific as to content as well as style. Virginia DeMarce was one of the successful entrants. Basically, she writes what Flint wants written and does it well enough to be one of the few to achieve a subsequent co-authored novel.

    Not my mileage – Eric Flint’s.

  15. Wombat_socho
    July 8th, 2013 @ 10:13 am

    Thank you for the clarification.

    July 11th, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

    […] but in order to worry about the long term, you have to survive the short term. Unlike other authors previously discussed, Ringo does an excellent job of keeping our attention focused on the main characters, even if […]