RIP Eric Flint (1947-1632-2022)
July 19, 2022 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Alternate-history author, labor organizer, and creator of the Baen Free Library Eric Flint has passed away at the age of 75.

Flint only became a full-time writer in his 50s, after a lifetime as a laborer and political activist in the labor movement (including membership in the Socialist Worker's Party). His most notable work was 1632, an alternate-history novel that transplanted a West Virginia community into the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years' War. The book kicked off a massive, sprawling series that landed four novels on the New York Times bestseller list and birthed the fan-collaborative Grantville Gazette, a zine that continues to establish canon within the 1632 world.
posted by Etrigan (34 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
posted by liminal_shadows at 10:29 AM on July 19, 2022

He seemed like a good guy despite working with an aggressively right-leaning publisher.
I didn't bother reading him assuming him to be some kind of reich wing nutter

Flint is one of a tiny, tiny number of people who's ever said "Okay, I'm going to work with these assholes and bring about change from the inside!" and actually did it.
posted by Etrigan at 10:45 AM on July 19, 2022 [15 favorites]

posted by Kattullus at 10:58 AM on July 19, 2022

posted by adekllny at 10:58 AM on July 19, 2022

So I guess the fate of the 1632 universe now falls to John Ringo, and Grantville becomes an opium den, or something?
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 10:59 AM on July 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Baen wasn't always a right wing publisher. They also were Bujold's publisher until recently. The shift rightward happened after Jim Baen died.
posted by Spike Glee at 10:59 AM on July 19, 2022 [13 favorites]

Fint spun a good idea and a decent novel into an entire cottage industry. Thy weren't my cup of tea, but I always admired what he was able to do there.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:38 AM on July 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

I loved his MOTHER OF DEMONS, on my shelf now! I guess it's the same basic plot - advanced tech arrives in lower-tech world - but with humans instead of Americans and dimorphous aliens with giant female elephants and tiny male squids instead of Europeans. Hmmm. Am I selling this? Anyway, loved it.
posted by one more day at 11:53 AM on July 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

I was just thinking about 1632 the other day for whatever reason. I read that at one a long time ago (a chapter lasted just long enough for a task to finish on the system I was working with at the time). Kickoff a couple of workflows. Read a chapter. Edit some more pages. Kick off workflows. Read. Rinse. Repeat. I enjoyed it for what it was.
posted by trox at 12:00 PM on July 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

It was good to see that Grantville included such things as labor unions and improved sanitation, instead of descending into a tech-bro libertarian fantasy. I will miss him.

posted by monotreme at 12:03 PM on July 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

RIP though I had zero clue about him and I would like to think that I read a lot of SFF. I see there are innumerable books in the 1632 canon. Do I really want to start down this rabbit hole when my reading stack is well past what I can achieve before I die?
posted by Ber at 12:03 PM on July 19, 2022

Mother of Demons is one of my favorite SFF novels of all time, and Flint is one of my favorite writers--although the 1632 universe was never my favorite pieces of his work. I often think of the rat Doc from his Rats, Bats, and Vats books with Dave Freer when I'm thinking about the purpose of law in a civil society:
Things went rather awry on the next day, when the defense called Doc to the stand to testify that they had created a target of opportunity. Doc and the judge had differing opinions.

"To do so, rat, was against the law!" snapped the judge.

"Judges," explained Doc kindly, "appear to think that the law is an immutable divinity, and that you are the voice of that divinity, to be obeyed. Unfortunately, Judge, history has proved that this is not the case."

"I do not need to be instructed on the subject of law, rodent," said the judge, irritably. "The law is the foundation of our society and must be preserved. Now continue your testimony before I find you in contempt."

Doc, caught up in the throes of a debate, cheerfully pressed on despite the threat. "Actually, metaphorically speaking, law is more like the mortar. It comes after, and to reinforce civilization, not before. And when the people, who are the bricks of our society, need to be reorganized, it's the old mortar that has to go. Justice, however, usually prevails eventually, because justice is actually a flexible and changing concept that is based on current mores, and exists in the eyes of most of the beholders. And I am not a rodent." He bared his sharp teeth. "As ought to be obvious, even to a judge."

Needless to say, this went down like a ton of building rubble into the judge's swimming pool.

He didn't like finding out that a military animal could not be held in contempt, either, as it was not actually a "person," legally speaking—but then, that's how the judge was trying to speak.
I didn't bother reading him assuming him to be some kind of reich wing nutter

For the record, Flint was probably about as politically explicit in his writing as the theoretical reich wing nutter; it's just that he was oriented extremely strongly the other way. He was not, bless him, a particularly subtle man. But I love his work an awful lot.
posted by sciatrix at 12:08 PM on July 19, 2022 [15 favorites]

I know a lot of people who knew Eric during his days in the SWP. They all speak warmly of him as a solid comrade and a brilliant person to talk with, whether it was about philosophy or baseball.

posted by graymouser at 12:10 PM on July 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

I should add, for clarity referring to those politics: the emphatic throughline of his writing (both solo and as collaboration projects, which seems to have been his preference) is to focus on coalition building, understanding people from different demographics and cultural experiences, and victory as a function of organization and politics. He had three years towards a UCLA history PhD geared towards South Africa before he dropped out to organize labor full time, and his love of history shines heavily through his writing. The single person whose work and perspective reminds me of Flint's most strongly is Utah Phillips, which is perhaps fitting as I think it was a Flint mention that got me listening to Phillips' music.

I am happy to offer suggestions about my favorite non-1632 books if anyone wants recs to dabble with.
posted by sciatrix at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2022 [17 favorites]

Loved the way he championed James H Schmitz even though I didn’t care for the way he 'modernized' The Witches of Karres and the other Schmitz books he republished.

There were some extremely good, very unusual (such as an excellent novel by an author I thought was probably a schizophrenic with religious delusions and quite unlike anything else I’ve read with the possible exception of William Blake's Prophetic Books) and otherwise unavailable works in his Free Library, which I read almost in its entirety after finding out about it here.
posted by jamjam at 12:19 PM on July 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I read 1632 and enjoyed it enough to try the next one, but I bounced off of it and didn't continue. The Belisarius series by Flint and David Drake was fun and readable, especially to this ancient history nerd. In refreshing my memory by reading the plot summary on its Wikipedia page, it's another series about the past being influenced by technology from the future, so that seems to be a theme he enjoyed playing with from a number of different perspectives.
posted by indexy at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

. for the author

! for the gravepissing and Nazi smears ("reich wing").
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

The Belisarius series by Flint and David Drake was fun and readable, especially to this ancient history nerd.
posted by indexy

David Drake is a total ancient history nerd.
posted by Splunge at 1:04 PM on July 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

posted by doctornemo at 1:06 PM on July 19, 2022

I enjoyed his work. He had good ideas, he wrote well. I used the Free Library and bought more books because of it.

He will be missed.

I saw in passing that his wife, also a writer, is in some financial straits as she was spending a lot of time caring for Eric. There's a fund to help her out. I am not the person to find and vet the fund link, however, but if someone else wishes to, that's fine.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:17 PM on July 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

Here's the Gofundme to help defray costs to his family, and it's already surpassed the goal. I see that several professional writers are among the funders, if that means anything towards establishing legitimacy. I saw it posted in discussion threads on File 770 and More Words, Deeper Hole.
posted by indexy at 1:26 PM on July 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

I am happy to offer suggestions about my favorite non-1632 books if anyone wants recs to dabble with.

Yes, please, sciatrix (and others, if they wish). Have not read any of his work and would like to check it out.
posted by humbug at 2:17 PM on July 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

posted by Coaticass at 3:01 PM on July 19, 2022

I'm not a sci-fi fan. I just read the stuff. So regardless of whether I thought he was of John Ringo's ilk, I was not going to slaver over him at a con. I also thought that way, stand corrected, will read his books some time soon.

posted by ocschwar at 3:16 PM on July 19, 2022

Mod note: folks, please rethink whether your comment is contributing to the derailing of this thread. I’ll be deleting comments replying to other folks’ comments above. Please keep things relevant.
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 3:20 PM on July 19, 2022

Well, this is too bad, especially now that I'm learning that he's not the typical Baen author I thought he was.

posted by lhauser at 6:36 PM on July 19, 2022


Well, this sucks. I knew he'd been ill, but I was hoping for the best. I live in Marion County, WV, which is the county that "Grantville" was located in. There's actually a small town here called Grant Town, but the small city that he based his stories on was Mannington. I served a couple of years with AmeriCorps at Mannington's West Augusta Historical Society museum, and it was a kick trying to piece together the parts of the city that he was writing about. The real life high school is called North Marion, even though Mannington is actually in the western part of the county.

My girlfriend organized the 1632 fan gettogether in Mannington back around 2006. Fans came from around the world to visit Mannington; she even was able to get homeowners in the historic district to give guided tours of their houses. She said that Mr. Flint was very nice, and for her efforts was given a box of 1632 novels that she distributed to our friends and family. (She got 'em hooked on the series!)

Thanks Eric, for all the work you did to show West Virginians in a positive light, and also for your work with the SWP.
posted by frodisaur at 9:31 PM on July 19, 2022 [10 favorites]

For those of you interested in the Baen Free Library linked above, I recommend the Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold, about 25 books including space operas, detective stories and romances, all set in the same universe, with the same characters.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:05 AM on July 20, 2022 [6 favorites]


Aww man, I just got into the 1632-verse... (And loved the Baen free library for as long as it has existed!)
posted by rozcakj at 6:13 AM on July 20, 2022

Good people alway pass too soon.
posted by hat_eater at 6:20 AM on July 20, 2022 [1 favorite]


I first heard about him on Slashdot where he was on the right side of the DRM and copyright debates and from his work on the Baen Free Library. I read 1632 and it didn't really grab me but he always had good stuff to say about the state of science fiction in this age.
posted by suetanvil at 7:58 AM on July 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Mother of Demons was also my favorite book by him, though I liked a lot of his other stuff.

posted by aleph at 10:46 AM on July 20, 2022

Well, if you ask...

If you like really detailed alien worldbuilding and hard sci-fi when it comes to sociology/history/evolutionary biology, Mother of Demons is honestly phenomenal. The titular demons are humans whose colonizing ship crash-landed, destroying almost all their resources, on an alien planet that was deemed capable of supporting alien life: correctly, as it turns out, because it's inhabited by a wide variety of species, including gukuy (which are essentially sapient land-squids), who are in the technological equivalent of their Bronze Age. Gukuy are significantly different from humans in terms of anatomy and physical capabilities, which winds up having some interesting implications for human/gukuy perceptions and communication.

Of course, no species is just one thing, even in its own Bronze Age: there are at least three major cultures/civilizations of gukuy, each involving several languages, in the general area that the humans wind up in. Gukuy have a very different sexual and reproductive system from humans, and among other things each of the various cultures have gender roles that are distinctly different for each of the four sexes' profiles. (On top of that, two of the main gukuy characters are in a queer relationship, with one individual being strongly implied to be intersex. There is considerable variation in how various societies handle that.)

All of this background information is related in contextual ways for the story, too; this is a story about the price and the weight of knowledge, a story about building a path to a better gukuy society, and a story about how to bear the terror of power. The worldbuilding stuff appears naturally as the plot meanders along the book. This is pretty par for the course for Flint's alien worldbuilding, which is one of his major strengths.

In a similar vein, Flint has three books with K. D. Wentworth (Course of Empire, Crucible of Empire, Span of Empire) that start in the aftermath of an alien species, the Jao, that have recently (~15-20yrs) conquered Earth and are essentially treating it as a colony world. The Jao say that they're trying to keep Earth safe from another, much scarier species called the Ekhat; the humans involved are skeptical about whether Ekhat even exist. The Jao end of the story focuses on a young scion of a high-ranking clan arriving to assume a role as a high-ranking colony commander; on the human end, the focus is on a young woman whose father is a high-ranking human leader under Jao rule and a resistance fighter trying to harass the Jao off the fucking planet. Here, the story (in the first book, I won't spoil too much of the other two) winds up turning on the Jao scion successfully building associations with a number of people, human and Jao alike; eroding the despotic rule that has so far been the face of Jao rule under the existing governor, and reconstructing a way of distributing power and interacting as species that allows both species to successfully resist the very real genocidal attempts of the Ekhat. Themes include being of use, choosing your narrative, finding a way to move on from a colonized past, and thinking about how the scars of your own experience shape your thinking.

Flint is also quite capable of being very funny, and he has two collaborations with Dave Freer I am extraordinarily fond of. Sometimes, we just need to laugh and feel seen. So if you like chaos and hijinxy space opera, Rats, Bats, and Vats (and its sequel, The Rats, the Bats, and the Ugly) focus o a colony world in which for Reasons a number of genetically modified military animals have been produced to fight off a giant maggoty alien species trying to swallow the colony: these are giant shrew/rat/elephant shrews ~10in tall ("rats"), and bats that are clearly an amalgam of several species ("bats"), both of whom receive cyberimplants that "upload" them to sapience and allow them to talk and so forth. There is a clear class stratification between Vats, who are born and raised at state expense from cloned tissue and live under a more or less inescapable load of continuously compounding debt, and Shareholders, whose parents immigrated to the colony as actual humans and therefore own a share of the total value of the colony. Of course, the Vats wind up being almost all of the conscripted human labor force in a military that is mismanaged and corrupt to a frankly phenomenal extent.

A human Vat and a passel of rats and bats wind up caught behind enemy lines, pick up a Shareholder's daughter semi-on-purpose along the way, and figure out some extremely useful information for the war effort. The sequel, which in some ways I like even more (and which contains the quote from upthread) deals with the aftermath of the characters' return to the main colony--and a panicked attempt from the existing Shareholders at the very top to shove the Vat corporal into a kangaroo trial to distract attention from other shady dealings going on. There's a lot of legal argument fuckery that I find comforting and a little cathartic in the context of this brave new world of impeachment hearings and Infowatch depositions in which we live. The climax of the books hinges on the use of careful language to effectively communicate ideas, transitioning into a more just society, and figuring out how to build a better society to meet the needs of all citizens.

If you like mythology, puns, and ancient history you might finally enjoy the other Freer collaboration series I love, Pyramid Scheme (and sequel, Pyramid Power). In these, a weird freaky alien pyramid lands in the middle of U Chicago and starts yoinking random people into itself, at which point it grows noticeably. Eventually it starts returning people--as corpses. It winds up grabbing one party consisting of a cop, a very focused mythographer, an university mechanic, a few paratroopers, and a marine biology postdoc, at which point we find out that internal to the pyramid is mythological Ancient Greece. Odysseus features heavily and not particularly flatteringly; Medea and Arachne come off far better, as does the Egyptian mythworld generally. Together they all get to figure out a) how the fuck to get out of the mythworld and go home again, and b) how to prevent the pyramid getting any bigger.

One of the things you might notice as a throughline in these books is that Flint is always very careful to note the heterogeneity of the different groups of people he talks about. It's not just the one wealthy girl from a Shareholder family who winds up being crucial to overturning a corrupt system and demanding democracy for all sapient citizens: it's an effort that includes people hailing from all manner of class backgrounds, and it quickly becomes clear that everyone has their own areas of expertise to contribute. It's not just one Jao that thinks "what if I paid attention to things humans do more effectively?", it's quite a few who emerge when it becomes much more safe to openly do so. It's never Just One person who wants to do the right thing: if you make enough noise about it, you can find other people who want to do right by one another, too. It matters to listen. It matters to never assume that someone else doesn't have a useful perspective or opinion, because often it will turn out that they do. On the gripping hand, nasty grasping little oiks come from all directions and all creeds, and your life will improve dramatically if you learn how to spot them up front, too.
posted by sciatrix at 2:49 PM on July 20, 2022 [22 favorites]

I did ask! And now I thank you, sciatrix.
posted by humbug at 7:46 PM on July 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

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