This month I sampled recent publications from popular contemporary historical rantasy series.
Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflottz is a compilation of stories about the titular Dr. Gribbleflottz, set in the “Ring of Fire” world of Eric Flint and collaborators. Judging from the number of titles, it must be quite popular, though I haven’t read them.
A Second Chance is the third in Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles of St. Mary’s” time travelling “historian” series <<link>>. These were published on line and in the UK, and are just appearing in bookstores in the US this year.
I’m sorry to be negative, but I wasn’t terribly impressed by either of these works.
1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflottz by Kerryn Offord and Rick Boatright
This book is a compilation of stories about the titular Dr. Gribbleflottz, set in the “Ring of Fire” world of Eric Flint and collaborators.
I haven’t read much of this fantasy series and nothing at all about Dr. G., but I thought, why not?
Overall, the series has little to attract me. The “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” theme isn’t new, and I really don’t like war stories very much. But Dr. Gribbleflottz isn’t focused on politics and war, it’s about academic politics, applied science, and a healthy dose of entreprenureship. The twentieth century contributes not only scientific and technological cheats, it furnishes American style business development processes.
Dr. Gribbleflottz and his friends, colleagues, and rivals are portrayed rather shallowly and, frankly, I couldn’t really understand their motivations. In addition, the plots made almost no sense to me, and mostly hinged on the Deus Ex Mechina of “cheat sheets from the future”.
These “cheats” take the form of (a) information from the “up time” world of 2000AD about how to do or make something and (b) some research to figure out how to replicate or simulate the results with “down time” Seventeenth Century technology. One time is interesting, over and over again, it’s kind of boring.
Offord and Boatright strive for a light and in places humorous tone, but it didn’t click for me. Silly people doing silly things in a silly fantasy world.
A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor
A Second Chance is another collection of short stories about Madeleine Maxwell, time travelling historian of St Mary’s. The fantasy world is illogical in the extreme. Why does St. Mary’s exist at all? What are they trying to do? How does their time travel actually work, and what are the logical restrictions?
In this story, Max not only messes with the past in several ways that are supposed to be prohibited, cause and effect are totally entangled. If pretty much any event can be undone by sneaky time travellers, and if people can from the future can interfere with the past, then it’s really impossible to understand anything.
I note that essentially every mission to the past is messed up, usually degenerating into violence and casualties, sometimes within minutes. You would think someone would notice the long record of costly failures and develop some better methodologies. That hasn’t happened.
To cap off the illogicalities, the titular “second chance” turns out to involve multiple time lines (which had not been broached previously), opening yet larger holes in any “plot” there may have been.
This kind of time travelling historian story can be done really well, for example, Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog leap to mind. But Taylor really spends too much time on the sturm und drang of her heroine’s romantic life and action packed fight scenes, will little attention to larger issues of sense or style. Sigh.
- Kerryn Offord and Rick Boatright, 1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflottz. Baen Books, New York, 2016.
- Jodi Taylor, A Second Chance, New York, Night Shade Books, 2016.
Sunday Book Reviews