A funny thing happened after the Manassas Reads event, the first event I’d attended and sold books at since the pandemic began, oh, about a decade ago. OK, maybe it wasn’t a decade, but sometimes it sure felt that way. Anyway, I went to McKay’s Used Books, my favorite used bookstore in the whole world, again for the first time since the pandemic started.
Being me, I picked up a whole bunch of books (SF, Fantasy & Mystery), including a couple of hardcovers in Eric Flint’s 1632 series, also known as the Ring of Fire series. Now, the first book, called—wait for it—1632, came out in 2000, though I discovered the series in 2001 when the paperback was released. The series is about the town of Grantville, West Virginia…and what happens when some mysterious cosmic accident sends it back in time and displaces it geographically so that it appears in the middle of Germany during the ferocious Thirty Years War.
I stayed with the series through the first three mainline books, the first Ring of Fire anthology, the first Grantville Gazette anthology (containing both fiction and non-fiction) and about three associated books. Then, somehow, I lost momentum and kinda lost track of the series.
Even back then, the series was starting to become a phenomenon. Since that time, though, it has evolved into the world’s biggest literary shared universe, with other authors contributing books, short stories, non-fiction articles, and more. Now, there are about 35 books in the main fiction series, plus a bunch of associated stories, etc. In some ways, the main series has branched, so there’s the core series, plus other sub-series and/or stand-alones set in other parts of the world.
Buying those two new hardcovers has inspired me to start catching up. Now, as I’ve described, catching up is a gargantuan task. Fortunately, there are online resources that provide a roadmap for traversing the series, including the 1632.org site. I’ve resolved to read, and review, a 1632 book every month until I catch up. Since I read five to ten books every month, that seems pretty doable. I figure the steady pace, interspersed with my reading of other non-related books, will also keep me from getting burned out on the series.
1632 is the first book in the series, published in 2000 (in hardcover). You’re not very far into the novel before Grantville is sent back in time and locals have to deal with being stranded in the middle of Germany during the Thirty Years War, where rampaging armies are devastating the countryside. It’s a rollicking action story with both heart and a consideration for deeper questions…
Like, what kind of society should a few thousand stranded time travelers build in the past? And what will it cost them? It’s an excellent book with a positive, hopeful outlook. Quite frankly, it’s a top-notch start to the series. Highly recommended.
As a bonus, I also read Essen Steel by Kim Mackey, published by Ring of Fire press. In general, the main books and associated books in the series are published by Baen Books. Works of interest to dedicated, hardcore fans, but perhaps not as accessible to a larger audience, are published by Ring of Fire.
The book is 111 pages, and is more of a collection of three short stories than a bonafide novella. The stories describe the deal-making involved in creating Essen Steel, a company mentioned later in the main series for its role in making high-quality steel available. A parallel plot thread details an organized effort to spread mathematics around the globe. Without much in the way of significant conflict or emotional involvement, it successfully deepens the series’ background without becoming essential reading. For diehard fans (like me).