If you’re going to tackle a read-through of a sprawling, convoluted, shared universe of novels and anthologies like the “1632” series (also known as the “Ring of Fire” series for the mysterious incident that sent the town of Grantville back in time), then you need a strategy. There’s no right, or wrong, way to consume the series…it’s more a matter of your preferences and, probably, time and patience, too.
Last month, I started off with the first book, 1632, which is the obvious and, really, the only effective place to start. In that novel, Eric Flint did a masterful job of setting the stage for everything else. I reviewed Flint’s initial volume in the previous episode of this read-through.
Trying to figure out how to navigate the series is daunting, even for me, and I was a fan years ago when the series first started. Fortunately, the 1632 community is fully aware of the problem and some really smart, dedicated folks have created some graphic aids that make charting a course a LOT easier.
So, to aid in the effort, here’s a 1632 Reading Order recommendation from “Bika” on the SF Chronicle website:
According to Bika, Dark Blue represents the Core Books of the series, Light Orange are non-essential books, Orange is the Russia sub-series, Light Green is the Papal sub-series, Purple is the Asian sub-series, and Light Blue are direct offshoots from the Core Books.
There is also a more complex and complete chart from Mike J. Nagle (also listed in the same SF Chronicles thread listed above). This one also includes the Grantville Gazette anthologies and publications from Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press. Nagle’s chart is also a little more up-to-date than Bika’s.
For both of these charts, click on them to view a larger version in a separate tab. Nagle’s chart was black and white; I added colors to at least somewhat match Bika’s chart. I also highlight all of the Ring of Fire titles in yellow, so I could differentiate them more easily from the (potentially) more commercial offerings from Baen Books.
One viable strategy would be to just read the core books:
- 1634: The Baltic War
- 1635: The Eastern Front
- 1636: The Saxon Uprising
- 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught
- 1637: The Polish Maelstrom
- 1637: The Carpathian Caper (Upcoming)
- 1637: The Adriatic Decision (Upcoming)
That’s nine books. You’d probably miss a lot of the side developments that impact the core story. But I suspect this path would still be pretty enjoyable.
For me, here’s what I’ve decided on for my 2022 read-through starting in May:
- May — 1632, plus Essen Steel (RFP novella)
- June — 1633
- July — Ring of Fire
- August — 1634: The Baltic War
- September — 1634: The Ram Rebellion
- October — 1634: Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice (RFP novel)
- November — 1634: The Bavarian Crisis
- December — Ring of Fire II
In general, each month I’m going to read one mainstream 1632 novel and one publication from Ring of Fire Press (RFP). I’m still figuring out which RFP stories I’ll be reading. My plan is to do a strategically expansive read-through so I get the “full 1632 experience.”
Now, there are four books that have relatively lower ratings compared to other books (you can see the ratings on Bika’s chart) – those are the first four light-orange books from Bika’s chart. I’m still going to read them (that’s where I ended up stopping way back in 2009 or so), but I’m going to intersperse them with other books. I’m also going to bypass the Papal sub-series initially, and then hit it sometime in 2023 (when I can read all of them in order one after another).
One interesting note: I chose Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice, an RFP novel, for my October read. The book, by Mark H. Huston, was nominated in 2020 for the Dragon Award for Best Alternate History Novel. Yes, I enjoy Austen-themed books (in moderation), so this became a must-read for me.
So, now I have a strategy. Wish me luck.