Eric Flint

My co-author is dead. Many years ago, on Baen’s bar, a monkey and a Red Bear got into a fight about writing. The monkey was his usual cheeky self. A relative newcomer to the bar, I had literally sold my first book to Baen a few months before. It wasn’t public knowledge yet, or due out for a while. The bear – who was now several books into his career, informed the obstreperous monkey, that when he could sell a book, he could opine about how this writing thing should be done.

I sent him a private message… saying well, actually, I had, and it was due out in a few months. I got a message back : with a ‘well, what an idiot I have just made of myself. I am sorry.’ And he proceeded to apologize in public too. Well, where I come from a man who can admit he was wrong gracefully, is a gentleman. Eric Flint and I differed on many issues, but there was a basis for mutual respect. We were both new authors, him a few years on from me, and he was much more savvy about the the business of publishing than I was. Not hard, I was abysmally ignorant. I got a fair amount of advice… and then when I was failing to sell a next book to Baen (my first had sold well enough, but not brilliantly) or any other publisher (I had Baen-cooties) most of which have been sold since and done well – he came to me with a question.

Biological, you understand. It was as a result of his submitting a short to I think Asimov’s and getting back a terse answer: “The story is impossible. A bat’s cranium is too small for uplift.”

Eric was irritated and asked me what I thought. Was the editor right?

Huh. Impossible. Just my favorite word. I wrote back and said I could think of three ways to make it possible, and explained the best. And he said: That is a book we should write together. And so RAT, BATS & VATS was born, and somehow Eric talked Jim into it. We got a really lowball advance, and the sort of promo you get with that, and went ahead and sold far better than we should have. From that a lot more collaborations followed. The Karres books, the Heirs books, SLOWTRAIN TO ARCTURUS – which got its genesis in Eric’s basement which was also his library. It was our first trip to the US and Barbs and I were very intimidated, driving through Chicago with Eric, dealing the immensity and differences… Shell-shocked. But the basement was a refuge: it was a library. And it was a library which gave me lot of insight into my co-author, who differed in politics, background, origins – everything just about… but we shared the same low taste in books. Oh yes, both of us read everything and anything… but he had a huge collection of… Louis L’Amour. And Simak. And Heinlein, and of course, Schmitz. Pulp and populist. And, honestly, as American as apple-pie. Politics aside, Eric was very much an American.

He was a historian. I was a biologist. We saw things very differently. I’d worked in Africa, on fishing boats, trawlers and fish-farms. He’d worked in US in meat-packing plants… Working with our hands, and backs, in what were in both places, surprisingly egalitarian work-places. As he said: working brutally hard next to someone you soon lose your delusions about what difference skin color makes. He was a socialist – I, for the nearest translation, was a libertarian and hopeless idealist. We kind of met on the idealist. I could respect him because he knew real work, real working people – not like so much of the modern left. And we could agree, and disagree, and still do business together – about which he was honest, unlike the publishing world in general.

Down in the basement: We got talking about slow-ships, with Eric saying they’d fallen out of favor, and I pointed out the weaknesses of slowships (it takes a long time to accelerate, a long time to decellerate, and he said when you get there the place may suck. Oh and supporting a biologically viable human population either means a very big ship mostly full of nothing or a breeding and technological system that doesn’t fall apart in a 500 year trip… impossible. and Lo: there was another book.

I was not very keen on the collaboration with Misty Lackey, as I felt I saw things quite differently to her. Eric talked me into it on that trip. He pointed out that I saw things very differently to him… but that we both saw it from a bottom-up working people point of view, not a Nobility and Generals point of view, and that I could work with Misty because she did that too.

Eric’s big success came with 1632 and his career and mine drifted apart. But we kept working together. He came up with the Baen Free Library and mine was the second book donated (his own the first). Jim Baen’s Universe… well I got suckered into being art director, not that I knew a damn thing about art. But when you get a call, you say yes. And we learned to differ but co-operate.

He introduced me to Sarah Hoyt – another unlikely connection that I owe him for, forever. And somehow across a range of people, he built connections and got many other people up into publishing their own work. You know, one thing I always felt about Eric was he was not entirely welcome on right and even center – but they gave him space and many of the people he published through 1632-verse were anything but his political bedfellows. The other side: well, he had credentials that none of them do. But he wasn’t of them. He loved America – they don’t, he liked fun, uplifting books, they don’t. He lamented the loss of US manufacturing to me, and he was part of working-class hoi polloi that the modern left of publishing despises. And he dared publish with Baen! So: he got little or none of the push they gave their chosen ones.

And yet he remained, and succeeded. He was a bridge of sorts.

And now he is gone. The bridge has fallen. And I will not get a chance to argue with him again, not in this world anyway.

There will be no more Flint and Freer collaborations.

No more coconuts from the Monkey.

We talked about a lot of books we never wrote.

Vale, Red Bear.

30 comments

  1. I met Eric a few times, and we always got along well, but the last few years his politics and my leaving Facebook caused us to drift apart. I’m sorry for your loss, and the publishing world will diminish because of his loss.

  2. I was saddened to read of his death. The two of you collaborated so wonderfully. My condolences.

  3. I think Eric has left two major legacies.

    One is the 1632verse and the staggering array of new authors (including yours truly) who got their first publications writing in that millieu. And I have to say it was (is) a fascinating alternate history which allowed for so much detailed historical research, tech research etc. etc.

    The other is the ebook model. His resolute pushing of the “first one is free” and “piracy is less of a problem than obscurity” messages prefigured what is now common wisdom in (indie) publishing, but it certainly wasn’t anything like common wisdom 20 years ago when he first started beating that drum

  4. I ran into his work through his collaborations in the Honor verse and that colorful cast of Havenite agents he put together.

    I didn’t get to far into the 1632 books, but I remember them being fun reads.

    He will be missed.

  5. Eric was always kind to fans at Conventions, willing to spend time talking for hours with us on all sorts of subjects.

    I fondly remember meeting Dave and Eric at a convention in Chicago and going out to eat with them and a dozen or so other fans. I believe that was on your first trip to the USA Dave. You were my first International Author to meet 😎 and I found it to be a very enjoyable couple of hours.

    And Yes, I agree that Eric and Jim beating the drum on eBooks was a very good thing for the development of the eBook market. Eric had OPINIONS on how it should work and was willing to put his own sales at risk to prove them. The thing a lot of people probably hated him most on the subject was he proved he was RIGHT! I think I’ve picked up every eBook he has published since though I’m woefully behind on the 1632 series reading…

  6. > You know, one thing I always felt about Eric was he was not entirely welcome on right and even
    > center – but they gave him space and many of the people he published through 1632-verse
    > were anything but his political bedfellows. The other side: well, he had credentials that none
    > of them do. But he wasn’t of them. He loved America – they don’t, he liked fun, uplifting
    > books, they don’t.

    Eric Flint was an older type of Socialist. One that you could see fighting the Nazis alongside you. Unfortunately, also one you can see pointing a gun at you to seize your means of production, while explaining the necessity of doing so. As long as a revolution wasn’t a likely prospect, he was a much better friend than the modern leftists whose response to Nazis would probably be to explain why we deserved them.

    Come the revolution, we would have had to shoot or be shot. But the revolution didn’t come, and frankly if it ever does I doubt it will be in the direction he thinks it should have gone.

    1. Yeah, he’d probably give you a blindfold and a cigarette first, and he’d definitely have merited a blindfold and cigarette himself.

  7. Well said David. Baen should ask you to write the official obituary as you’re clearly the man for the job. I really enjoyed reading Slow Train to Arcturus, and Eric’s other collaborations that introduced me to varied voices; real infinite diversity in infinite combination rather than the current SF fandom’s idea of what that means.

  8. Having read most of Eric’s books and all of your library Dave, Many condolences on your loss.

    Just having listened to both Pyramid books again. The 1632 series was quite good. He got a lot of new authors some “screen time” with those.

    Just missed meeting him on a cruise he took to AK years ago.

  9. The news of Eric’s death hit me pretty hard this morning. Your words prompt me to add my own tidbit to the stack of “Things to Thank Eric Flint For.”
    Pursuit of works by Niven and Pournelle lead me to Baen Books; I soon learned that if a book had the little spaceship on the spine, I’d likely enjoy reading it; that’s why I picked out ‘1632’ when I came across it. (A character in ‘1632’ inspired me to buy a Winchester Model 94 lever action rifle in .30-30.)
    Baen Books led me to Webscriptions, and Baen’s Bar. and then the Baen Free Library. I couldn’t tell you the year, but it was before 2003. I know this, because I carried a cd containing multiple free books on my 25th wedding anniversary cruise.
    I found other David Drake works, to go with the ragged copy of “Hammer’s Slammers” I’d lugged with me across the southeast. I devoured the Raj Whitehall and Belisarius series, wandering in circles and muttering until “The Dance of Time” was finally released.
    I could list many more favorites, some who wrote in collaboration with him, and others who didn’t. But even if they didn’t write together, it was finding their works in the Free Library that alerted me to their existence.
    I loved the fact that he was a socialist. He provided an internal counterbalance for me, which I needed, to keep me from assigning all of “Those Guys” to the dustheap.
    He seemed to me to be a generous person. May I emulate that generosity, in memory of him.

  10. I don’t remember reading any of Eric Flint’s works before the 1632 series, but that series has kept me interested ever since it came out. It was years before I learned how Socialist his political views were. That’s the mark of a good writer – his political views didn’t take over the story, or even intrude on it in ways the story couldn’t support. I can only hope that the authors of the Ring of Fire series can maintain the standards that he set. Regardless, he left his mark and deserves to be well-remembered for it. RIP.

    1. 1632 was a rousing good yarn and although I wasn’t too highly pleased about a Union Organizer being the Good Guy, his personal political views weren’t so obtrusive they became obnoxious. I lost track of the series after about 5 volumes or so, but the way he brought in other collaborators to play in his world was admirable. I even considered attempting to join the fun (though not very seriously).

      1. I grew up in a mining town – copper, not coal, but they are populated by very much the same people.

        Mike could have well been the brother of the local UMW head – with which my Dad, an extreme conservative, was very good friends. The families, too, although my sisters more than myself as they were the age to grow up with his kids.

        He had family roots going back into the 1800s, when his great-grandparents came over from what was then the Slavic possessions of Austria-Hungary. He started out, IIRC, as a “gofer” for the drillers. Never forgot his obligations to the people he represented to management – who also highly respected him. (We really didn’t have “labor troubles” until the main mines were bought out by NYC megacorps.)

        1. Mike was a bit “too good to be true” and Eric admitted that but I found it easy to believe that an Union leader (on Mike’s level) could be a good person.

          IMO The people at the Top of the Major US Unions are very close to being as Bad as the Stereotypic Evil CEOs so “loved” by the Left.

          1. The problems with modern unions are largely due to the fact that they are a “permitted monopoly” on labor. Plus, as with large government, the people on top live in very insulated bubbles and, even when they do happen to care about the lower levels, try to impose one size fits all solutions, from a very narrow viewpoint.

            I’m watching the impending rail strike very closely these days – shutting down that transport system is likely to break the supply chain entirely.

          2. What’s the difference between organized labor and organized crime? Organized crime causes less damage.

            I’m all in favor of small unions sticking up for their workers against abusive employers. The big unions are nothing more than a branch of the mafia with legal rights to commit violence and commit extortion.

  11. I find myself wishing that I hadn’t popped the blog open today. Not that there is ever a good day to learn that one of the stars in my reading firmament has gone out.

    Like many here, I had nothing but detestation for his ideology – and nothing but deep respect for the man.

  12. I saw the news yesterday on my Twitter homepage and figured it had to be a hoax. I looked it up, and every place I found confirmation, I found a reason to dismiss it as obviously not true. It wasn’t until I saw the Tweet from the official Baen account that I accepted it. I don’t know why I had such a hard time. Partially it may be because I was seriously off on my estimate of his age (early 50s rather than mid 70s), but I think it’s also because he was just such a huge influence on Baen and the sci-fi fantasy that I read. He couldn’t be gone. That just wasn’t possible.

    I wasn’t a huge fan of Flint’s work directly, but he was a huge influence on what publishing became, and I am a fan of most of that. RIP.

  13. Eric Flint, Godspeed.

    I have a lot of his books. I have pretty much all the ones he did with Dave Freer. Because they’re really good books. Sorry for your loss, Dave.

  14. This makes me very, very sad. The older we get, the more people we know or know of pass away. It sucks. This has been a pretty bad year for that in my little world. I didn’t know Eric personally. He was a facebook friend and that allowed me to see him in another light. He was also a favorite author. I feel for your loss. I feel for the loss of readers that will never get to enjoy another one of his works or your collaborations. I know that we were lucky to have him. I appreciate that. It doesn’t fix the sad. Maybe it will with time.

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