Saturday, January 30, 2010

In the Country of the Blind

In the Country of the Blind by Michael Flynn
Hardcover, 377 pages (not including notes)
Tor, 2001
ISBN-13: 9780312874445
Science Fiction
highly recommended

Set primarily in the present, with tantalizing flashbacks to the 1800s, In the Country of the Blind concerns a small group of American idealists who manage to actually build the Analytical Engine designed by Charles Babbage and use it to develop mathematical models that could chart the likely course of the future. When their calculations predicted a united Germany armed with unimaginably powerful bombs by 1939, the Charles Babbage Society kept it from ever happening. Soon they were working to alter history's course to their own liking in other ways. By the 1990s the Society has become the secret master of the world. But no secret can be kept forever, at least not without drastic measures. When her plans for some historic real estate lead developer and ex-reporter Sarah Beaumont to stumble across the Society's existence, it is just the first step into a baffling and deadly maze of conspiracies.

Originally published in the 1980s as a paperback original, In the Country of the Blind has been revised and updated for this new edition and now includes Flynn's article from Analog, "An Introduction to Cliology," about the ideas underlying the book.
My Thoughts:

In the Country of the Blind explores the existence of a secret group of people who have been using the science of Cliology to manipulate history. The discovery of the existence of the secret group makes Sarah Beaumont and several of her friends enemies of the group and puts targets on their backs. There is plenty of intrigue and double crosses as the existence of the secret group(s) is revealed. While an interesting story, In the Country of the Blind is more a philosophical argument concerning the use of Cliology and the study of human society. For serious students of science fiction, there is a large appendix, including charts, that discusses the mathematics and biology of history. highly recommended


Isaac shook his head. "Give it time, boy. Give it time. Rome weren't built in one day, neither.The society's too small yet to move the world by much; but it will grow, if we persevere." pg. 16

The papers on the floor caught her eye. A yellowed newspaper clipping. She picked it up and found a torn sheet of foolscap held to it by a rusty staple.
“What are those?” asked Dennis, brushing his hands and standing up.
“A list of dates. Looks like someone’s crib notes for a history test and…” She read the headline on the clipping. “An 1892 story from the old Denver Express.” She handed the foolscap to Dennis and read through the rest of the news story. “A gunfight,” she told him. “Two cowboys on Larimer Street. Neither one was scratched, but a bystander was killed. An old man named Brady Quinn.” pg 20

“That’s a big help. What’s ‘cliological’?”
She shrugged. “Beats me. I never heard the word before.”
“And the mixture of entries is odd, too. Famous events and obscure events all jumbled together. How does the nomination of Franklin Pierce, or the election of Rutherford Hayes, or Winfield Scott’s military appointments belong on the same list as the election of Abraham Lincoln or his assassination, or the sinking of the Lusitania? Or…Hello!”
“What?” She moved behind him and read over his shoulder. He pointed. “‘Brady Quinn murdered,’” she read.
“Yep, your friend Quinn is right in there with Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. And with von Kluck’s Turn, whatever that was. Nineteen-fourteen. Must have been World War One.”
“No kidding. And ‘Frederick W. Taylor, fl. ca. 1900.’ Who was he?”
Dennis shook his head. “There are a half dozen entries here that I never heard of.” pg. 21

"Oh, yes, your list. Now this is purely off the cuff, understand, but the items I am familiar with seem to be historical turning points of a rather subtle kind. The events themselves were small - few people were involved - but they had disproportionate consequences..." pg. 30

"Wait a minute! Nothing important happened because Quinn was killed."
He looked puzzled. "Well, yes. That is the problem."
"No. That's the answer! Nothing important happened because Quinn was killed." pg. 40

The thought rose unbidden in her mind, and it was a moment or two before she realized what it meant. When she did, the implication stunned her. They hadn't been trying to study history at all; they had been trying to control it! pg. 73

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