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Eric Flint

This fifth volume of the Grantville Gazette represents a change in the format of the Gazettes. Two changes, actually—one major and one whimsical.

The major change is that with this paper edition of the Gazette we have abandoned the formula we used for the first four volumes. That formula was straight-forward: we simply took the equivalent electronic edition of the magazine, added a new story by me, and—presto—we had a paper edition.

For bibliophiles, collectors and completists, it was all very easy. Gazette 1 (electronic edition) became Gazette I (paper edition). The only difference beyond the format was the addition of a new story by me, a new preface, and changing the Arabic number to a Roman one. Thus, Gazette 2 became Gazette II, 3 became III, and 4 became IV.

Alas, we can no longer continue that austere tradition. The reason is also simple, and—at least from my standpoint—represents one of those very nice problems called "problems of success."

Nice as they may be from one angle, problems of success are still problems and have to be addressed. The problem in this case is that Baen Books, the house which publishes the paper edition of the Gazettes, can no longer keep up with the production rate of the electronic editions.

The paper editions had already fallen badly behind at least two years ago. Gazette III (that's a paper edition, as is true of any of the Gazettes with Roman numerals) came out in hardcover in January of 2007. Four months later, in May of that year, we started publishing the electronic edition of the Gazette on a regular bi-monthly basis—with volume 11.

Thereafter, the situation just became hopeless, with a new electronic edition of the magazine appearing every two months. Baen is a book publisher, not a magazine publisher, and can only afford to set aside (at most) one slot per year for the Gazette. By the time this paper edition of Gazette V appears on the bookstore shelves, we will have published Gazette 24 in electronic format. If we stayed with the one-to-one formula, it would be 2028 at the earliest before it could appear in a paper edition.

Something had to give. I discussed the problem with Toni Weisskopf, Baen's publisher, and we agreed that beginning with the fifth (paper) volume, the Gazettes would adopt a "best of" formula rather than being a straight-forward transfer of a complete electronic magazine issue into its equivalent paper volume.

And that's what you have in your hand. The title says Grantville Gazette V, because there are good and practical marketing reasons that you don't want to confuse readers with too many formulas. The Ring of Fire series is already complex enough, thank you. So, we're continuing the tradition of numbering paper editions of the Gazette with Roman numerals. But we could just as easily and perhaps more accurately have titled it, The Best of Grantville Gazettes 5 through 11—because this volume contains stories which were originally published in one of those electronic editions.

That will continue to be the formula for the paper editions of the Gazettes from now on. They will all be "best of" volumes, incorporating stories from roughly half a dozen electronic issues. So, those of you who really want to have every story published in the Gazettes will henceforth need to buy the electronic magazine. You won't simply be able to assume that a paper edition will follow with the same contents.

I say this, you understand, in the sturdy tradition of grasping authors. The Order of Doctor Johnson, it's called. (And if you're not familiar with Doctor Johnson, see the afterword at the end of this volume.)

One thing has not changed—every paper edition of the Gazette will contain a new story by me that did not appear in the electronic edition, and never will. In this volume, that's my novelette "Steady Girl." And if it dawns on you that one side effect of this sturdy tradition is that a reader determined to get every Gazette story can't settle for just getting the electronic magazine but also has to buy each and every blasted paper edition . . . 

Well, yes, that's true. I've been a faithful adherent to the Order of Doctor Johnson for many years now.

One other thing hasn't changed either, although it's undergone a transformation—and that's the whimsical change I referred to in the first paragraph of this preface.

It had always been the tradition, with paper editions of the Gazette, for Jim Baen to commission cover art based on a reworking of some famous painting of the 1632 era. (How much reworking? Enough to dodge modern idiotic copyright regulations. And if you're wondering how anyone can possibly claim "copyright" on images created by artists who've been dead for centuries, well, so am I.) I would then be presented with the end result, announced by a phone call from Jim—this was accompanied by what sounded suspiciously like snorting noises—and it would be up to me to figure out a story that explained the cover art.

It was a game between Jim and me that had actually started with the cover art to 1633, one of the novels in the series I co-authored with David Weber. Jim really liked the image produced by Dru Blair of an armored seventeenth century cavalryman staring up at a huge "ironclad." When David Weber and I complained that the warship depicted looked far more like a World War I era dreadnaught than any ironclad we (the mere and miserable authors) had in the actual story, Jim loftily informed us that good cover art was good cover art and it was damn well our job to figure out a way to explain it in the story.

Which, indeed, we did, scribbling away in the night and muttering curses on the subject of publishers.

But the truth is, I enjoyed the game. It was fun in its own right, but it also forced me to engage in the authorial equivalent of stretching exercises. Every occupation has it hazards, and one of the hazards for storytellers is that they can easily get too obsessed with the majesty of the trade. Which, yes, certainly has its Shakespeares and Tolstoys and Flauberts to celebrate—but is ultimately a none-too-reputable craft begun tens of thousands of years ago around hunter-gatherer campfires, and continued in more civilized times by bards singing whatever the local king or baron damn well wanted to hear that night.

This is true of all arts, by the way. Joseph Haydn is today mostly remembered for his symphonies and string quartets and oratorios—but the great composer also has some two hundred baryton trios in his life's oeuvre. And what, you ask, is a "baryton"? It's a musical instrument that was already becoming obsolete in Haydn's day—you can think of it as grotesquely complicated violincello—but which Haydn's patron Prince Nikolaus Esterházy liked to play.

The prince wanted baryton trios, so Haydn wrote them. And while no one in their right mind considers those pieces the equal of the London and Drumroll symphonies, or The Seasons, still they are pleasant to the ear—and the requirement to produce them on order undoubtedly kept Haydn's creative mind nimble and flexible.

Then, in June of 2006, Jim Baen died.

I figured the game had died with him, but it's had an interesting resurrection. I was discussing the cover we'd need for Gazette V with Tom Kidd, the regular artist for the Ring of Fire series. In the course of the conversation, Tom mentioned that he had an idea he'd like to try. I told him to go ahead—whatever he'd like—and once he was done, I'd write a story to match the cover. An illustration of the illustration, so to speak. And that's the provenance of my lead-off story in this volume.

The trick to this exercise is to turn what is inherently a whimsical sort of tale into something that advances the overall development of the Ring of Fire series. In that regard, I'm quite pleased with "Steady Girl." First, it builds on many pre-existing elements. Some of them, like Francisco Nasi's position, manifest themselves in practically every book of the series. Others, like Denise Beasley's connection to Kelly Aircraft or her relationship to Nasi, are the products of specific stories. (In the case of the first, my short novel "The Austro-Hungarian Connection" in Ring of Fire II; in the case of the second, the novel I recently co-authored with Virginia DeMarce, 1635: The Dreeson Incident.)

But "Steady Girl" also goes forward, with new developments that will help lay the basis for later stories, in a number of ways.

Which ways? How?

Well, I'm afraid you'll have to wait until later books appear in the series and you can, ahem, buy them.

I told you. The Order of Doctor Johnson. Member in good standing, dues paid up and paid in full.

—Eric Flint, March 2009


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