Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Ring of Fire III" by Eric Flint (editor)

Ring of Fire III, like the first two volumes, is a collection of short stories by different authors, plus a novella by Eric Flint himself, set in Flint's 1632 universe.

(If you're not already a fan of this series, you certainly don't want to start here. Check out my previous comments to get some idea of the storyline.)

As Flint explains in a preface, these three volumes differ from the Grantville Gazette books, which are also anthologies by different authors, in that, "with a few exceptions, every story... is either closely connected to existing story lines in the series or opens up new story lines for future development."

Indeed, the first Ring of Fire introduced Tom Stone ("Stoner") and his family, who star in one of the best threads in the series with their adventures in Italy. It also showed us the beginning of the new American navy, which is such an important part of 1633. Likewise, Ring of Fire II described the romance between Eddie Cantrell and the Danish king's daughter, which is a big part of 1634: The Baltic War.

But before I talk about future storylines in this one, how do these stories hold up as stories? I must admit that I was a bit disappointed, overall. Partly, that's probably because the series has gone on for a long time now, so these just seemed to be "more of the same." They weren't bad, but most of them didn't stand out.

Also, in this kind of series, I really need to care about the characters. Eric Flint usually does that very well, but other authors aren't always so talented. (Or maybe it's just not a priority for them.) In fact, there were only a few stories that really grabbed me in this collection.

And finally, in regards to those future storylines, it gets harder to interest me in those, too, as the series continues. There is a limit in any series, even one with multiple authors. How much more can you really say that's both new and significantly different from what's already been said?

Certainly, the future storylines look ambitious, since they're planning books about the New World and about East Asia, in addition to the clear threat we've been seeing from the Ottoman Empire. So who knows, really?

At any rate, of the short stories, I especially loved "All God's Children in the Burning East" by Garrett W. Vance, and I can't wait to see what happens when 400 Asians - mostly Japanese Christians - arrive in Grantville. In this story, I really did care about the characters. As far as I know, I haven't read anything else by Vance, but he did a great job here.

"Falser Messiah" by Tim Roesch was neat, too, showing us what happens to children who are mentioned in Grantville's history books. It was another one where I liked the characters (mostly kids - and good kids, at that).

I don't mean to imply that the other stories were poor, certainly not. Some were very good, indeed. And if you're a fan of the series, you'll probably want to read them all. The problem is - well, my problem is that I've read a lot of stories set in this world, and I'm having a harder time really being blown away by any of them these days. Certainly, there weren't many here that really blew me away.

Then there's Eric Flint's novella at the end of the book. Flint has a couple of advantages. The first is that his two main characters, Tom and Rita Simpson, are people we've known - and liked - since the very first book in the series (pretty much from the first page, in fact).

It's also part of the main storyline, a book that bridges 1636: The Saxon Uprising and the next novel in that sequence. So it's a story I wanted to read, even before I knew it existed.

But it also demonstrates why I tend to like Eric Flint's books. There are three young women in the story who are trying to escape a city that's being sacked, along with their boss, a "fat asshole" that none of them actually like. If they're caught, they'll almost certainly be raped and murdered by enemy soldiers.

And yet, when their boss is badly injured and knocked unconscious, not one of them even considers leaving him behind, even though they've got the good excuse that he's just too big to carry. They don't even discuss it. They just find a way to manage it, even though it slows them down even further and makes their escape even more difficult than it already was.

My point is that Flint doesn't tell us what their personalities are like, he shows us. They don't make a big deal about it. They just do what they have to do. And another character in the story, a man, does the same thing. These are people we like, because we can see what kind of people they are, just in their actions during a dangerous situation.

I was very happy with the previous book in the 1632 series, and I'm looking forward to the next in the same thread (there are multiple threads going on, since this event has had worldwide implications). This anthology is not a necessary read in the series, not at all. If you're a big fan, you'll probably want to read it. If not, you could easily give it a miss.

I'm glad I read it, but then, I'm a big fan. :)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for liking my story.

Tim Roesch

WCG said...

Thanks for writing it, Tim. It really was excellent.

I saw that you had a story for sale at, too - "Letters Home." That was also very good.

Have you written any others? Working on a novel, perhaps? (I don't read many short stories.) You've clearly got talent.