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In literature, an Assiti Shards event, Assiti Shards accident, a strike by an Assiti shard, or a Ring of Fire, is a plot device in which a large piece of land and everything on it is transported through time. This effect can be considered to be a combination of a time machine and a teleportation/transporter device.

It sets the stage for a fictional story line removed from the world as we experience it, and with the extended relation that unlike the many stock variations on time travel which affect at most a handful of characters, the technique transports many characters en masse into a new timeline along with a lot of their surroundings. The transportation resembles that from the S. M. Stirling novel Island in the Sea of Time.

Assiti shard effectsEdit

Unlike characters voluntarily stepping into a time machine, characters who undergo a strike by an Assiti (an anagram for "as it is") shard do so involuntarily, and are accompanied by a large mass of surrounding terrain — described as a spherical volume of three to four miles (5 km–6 km) radius[1][2] in the case of the first novel using the technique—of which space, about half is above and half is below local planetary surface level thus encompassing a large volume of atmosphere and local mineral deposits. In the novel 1632 by Assiti creator Eric Flint, that spherical volume from West Virginia originated in our recent past in the spring of the year 2000— along with the almost negligible mass of the fictional town of Grantville and all its people — was exchanged with a depopulated sphere of air and ground from the rural German region of Thuringia of May 1631 in what is described in the books as a "Ring of Fire"—a phenomenon appearing as the biggest sheet lightning display anyone had ever seen.[3]

What may seem counter-intuitive, is that not one shard must strike, but two removed in time-and-or-space may be necessary to implement the double transference, setting up the necessary preconditions for at least one other novel by the creator which is known to involve two widely separated geographic locations in Earth's past, with another strike in a more remote era of Earth's past taking two groups of unwitting victims from our recent history into a more remote day and age.

In the May 2008 novel, Timespike the multiple strike 'fan hypothesis' may have received indirect proof— no less than four populations, including two of Native Americans, all coincident geographically (southern Illinois) but widely separated 'in time' reach the same prehistoric destination in close geographic proximity. In the Time Spike transposition the various populations are deposited into the unpopulated late Cretaceous era (145-65.5 million years ago), which would put the milieu well before any known forbearer of Homo (genus), and before the extinction of dinosaurs.

Background, the 1632 phenomenonEdit

The mechanism was conceived and created by historian/science fiction author/editor and e-publisher Eric Flint in his solo novel 1632 wherein he himself considered it an experiment in a means of setting up a plausible background for alternate history stories. He had in fact planned several other novels using the technique for the early 2000s which were interrupted and delayed by the excitement caused by the first successful use. The storyline conflict created by using the technique caught the imagination of the reading public and forced the resultant succession of best selling sequels —undertaking the necessary historical and technical research once the novel came out was not in Flint's plans in 2000—the public demand for more therefore begat the subsequent 1632 series which has burgeoned in the years since to an alternate history book series that has ten works in print, four more in production, ten others in e-zine format, and continues to build up a following. Atypically, the sales for lead and other novels in the series continues to build in sales, instead of dying off almost completely after a couple of years as is normal in publishing sales.

The basic premise of the mechanism is that a set of space-time exchanges occur to two different "place-times" on the same planet, our earth (thus far), which in effect create multiple universes per any of several theories extant in science. In the literary implementation, these consequent splits in the time line of earth are merely a side effect or by-product of the shadowy alien Assiti race's favorite art form, which is somehow performed in multidimensional space-time.[4] Exactly what sort of art and why exactly they cause convolutions of the space-time continuum are not revealed save the side-effect is the careless accidental result of a "shard" (implying breakage of something) striking the earth.[4] Save for a snippet noting that the Assiti will be called to account[5] for such careless "play" in the future—a far off future—the reader is left to speculate and the author proceeds with the resulting plot circumstances into a sudden "encounter" or deal-with-this situation type of story beginning. This is not unlike other literary mechanisms or plot starts involving time travel. One large subset of those include the protagonist having no control over a possible return to his start time, and this is in fact shared by the Assiti shard event—the time trip is irreversible, the protagonists must sink or swim—at least pending further words from the author.[6]

Physically, these exchanges transitionally take on the appearance of a sphere of "heatless flame" or "fire" that transposes two large sphere-shaped spaces (measured in miles of diameter) from their own respective times and places. As seen from within, the phenomenon is eponymously described as a Ring of Fire as the heatless flame manifests much more visibly at the air-ground interface thus appearing as more of a ring from within. Thus, this feature gives the title Ring of Fire to the third book in the first series utilizing this literary mechanism.

Thus the Assiti notoriety began to spread as the stand alone one of a kind novel 1632 attained modest early sales typical to and expected by newer writers in a genre, but there was a lot of talk on the internet about the book. The sales did not level out and drop off in the normal way, but instead continued to slowly grow. The internet "buzz" became very loud on Baen's Bar, a meeting place for science fiction fans, and when it was revealed that no sequel had been planned, there was dismay. Much of the chatter was of the typical "what if" variety, focused on the subsequent history of tiny beleaguered Grantville. Various historical threads became common themes, and greater numbers of people began frequenting the bar, so it spun off a dedicated forum just to handle the buzz; then a second one, and the author busy with other projects, but bemused by all the fuss began to join the regulars, self-styled as Barflies and all the while the novel continued selling. Other authors began to drop in. Some fans grew tired of waiting and started to produce their own stories. Publisher Jim Baen thought some of them were promising indeed, and agreed to underwrite a third forum just for peer review purposes—which he and author Flint agreed to stay out of, reserving the copyrights to the authors.

The novel caused a small community centered on the website of Baen Books to arise, and essentially demand that Baen and author Eric Flint produce a sequel. This is not uncommon in a series, but it usually happens over a much longer timespan before a publisher will back a sequel.

Thus bolstered by the fan support and armed with reams of potential storylines from the websites speculative story threads, Flint and best selling author David Weber jointly agreed to undertake the complexity of a sequel based on workings of fans and the implications of the novel's scenario.

Further speculations were encouraged by the author, as they reinforced the main theme of the novel: the resourcefulness and idealism of the average 21st century small-town American. Other speculations centered on the shadowy Assiti, and Flint's toolbox grew in the synergy of creation undertaken by enthusiastic and creative fan hunger which he deftly guided past inconsistent pitfalls with his historian-understanding of the underpinnings of the society and cultural realities he had sentenced Grantville to overcome or perish. But Eric Flint while being led into the project had a clear idea of how much he owed to the fans and being a gambler, while plotting the sequel decided to do something unique and history making—he invited other established authors inside and outside of Baen's stable to contribute to an anthology which he would edit while concurrently jointly producing a targeted writers' guideline, style sheet and milieu technical manual. These things are normally an author's private preserve, but he had issued a blank check to nearly twenty highly skilled writers, and they helped him refine all of it. The result was the two best sellers 1633 and Ring of Fire, the later being uncharacteristic in shared author's milieus for being the first to let the visiting author actually determine the main story line thread or threads. Normally, such visitors play safely off to the side somewhere where the series owner has no plans or interest in further developing.

They in turn helped form and shape the "big novel" sequel so long awaited. As the sequel's various projects gelled and became production, Flint made another bold move to honor and acknowledge his debt to the fans who'd helped in so many ways to get the complex task get off the ground. Along with Jim Baen who was appropriately enough exploring the novel new area of electronic online publishing, Flint announced that he would edit an ebook of fan fiction as a tentative experimental matter, and Jim Baen agreed to underwrite the matter. This first experiment was such a thorough success, that a second ebook was agreed upon, and the first was announced to be so good that Baen would publish it as a paperback, becoming The Grantville Gazette.

Thus although sequels to 1632 were not originally planned, enthusiasm eventually caused Eric Flint (with David Weber) to produce 1633, a novel incorporating ideas and characters developed by his fans. Continuing in this vein, no fewer than three novels set in 1634 are planned, with one published (1634: The Galileo Affair). In addition, Flint now edits The Grantville Gazette, an authorized series of fan-written works set in the "1632verse". Although not part of the original plan, these volumes are also considered Assiti shard works.

The Assiti shard sequence has thus become an experiment in massive collaborative authorship. Although Flint maintains overall creative control, many details of his setting have now been parceled to first-time authors. The small society has developed its own institutions, such as its own "slush pile" for beta-testing stories and "grid" for keeping track of characters.

Other worlds in the Assiti Shards sequenceEdit

Main article: Assiti Shards series

Although 1632 by Eric Flint was written as a stand-alone novel in 2000, Flint had planned several other universes using the Assiti Shards story premise. However, the sensation and interest engendered by the 1632 novel's publication subsequently caused the other works to be delayed while the 1632 series was developed. The other books in the overall Assiti Shards series currently under contract are:

1776 supposes George Washington and Frederick the Great are transposed to ancient Rome's Crisis of the Third Century; By Any Other Name, takes place in several different time frames including a transposition of the Assiti themselves into Elizabethan England.

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. Flint, Eric. "Prologue" (in English). 1632. 1632 series. Larry Elmore (cover art) and Randy Apslund (Interior Maps) (1st, (hc) ed.). Riverdale, NY 10471: Baen Books. pp. pp. 1-2 (of 504). ISBN ISBN 0-671-57849-9. "Prologue states: The US government investigation determined: The size of the foreign terrain was mapped, quite precisely. It formed a perfectly circular hemisphere about six miles in diameter, approximately half that deep at its center." 
  2. Flint, Eric, "Prologue", 1632, p. 72, [Stearns addressing the emergency town meeting]: "You all heard what [science teacher] Greg Ferrara said earlier. He estimates the disaster—the Ring of Fire—yanked an area about six, maybe seven miles in diameter with us."
  3. Flint, Eric. "Chapter 1". 1632. pp. p. 15 (of 504). "The flash was almost blinding. For an instant, the room seemed filled by sunlight. The accompanying thunder rattled the windows. Mike ducked, hunched... and several paragraphs later: 'The sight of the startled men in the parking lot almost caused Mike Stearns to laugh, despite the sudden shock of that incredible—sheet lightning? What the hell did happen?" 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Flint, Eric, 1632, "Prologue", pp. 2–3, "In reality, the Grantville Disaster was the result of what humans of the day would have called criminal negligence. Caused by a shard of cosmic garbage, a discarded fragment of what for lack of a better term, could be called a work of art. A shaving, you might say, from a sculpture. The Assiti fancied their solopsist amusements with the fabric of spacetime. They were quite oblivious to the impact of their "art" on the rest of the universe".
  5. Flint, Eric, 1632, "Prologue", pp. 3, "The Assiti would be exterminated, eight-five million years later... knew nothing of their origins on a distant planet once called Earth, much less a minor disaster which had occurred there. The Fta Tei exterminated the Assiti simply because, after many stern warnings, they persisted in practicing their dangerous and irresponsible art."
  6. Flint, Eric, 1632, "Chapter 7", p. 69, [Greg Ferrara addressing town meeting] "But we're still in the position of a trailer park hit by a tornado. What do you think the chances are of another tornado coming by—and setting everything back the way it was?" ... "Personally, I'd have to say the chance is astronomically minute. Let's hope so. Another Ring of Fire would probably destroy us completely."
  7. "Forthcoming" at ericflint.net (accessed 26 October 2007). "May 2008 will see the publication of TIMESPIKE by Eric and Marilyn Kosmatka, a different branch of the “Assiti Shards” universe."
  8. "Known scheduled for writing during 2007". http://www.ericflint.net/index.php/forthcoming/. Retrieved 2007-10-26. "[Eric has scheduled his writing for and the] "First draft is in Eric’s hands from Collaborators... By any other name (with Sarah Hoyt" 

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