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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, January 04, 2004

In the Country of the Blind by Michael Flynn. New York: Tor, 2001. ISBN: 0312874448

This book tackles a potentially fascinating idea, namely, what would it be like if someone had discovered a science of human interaction back in the 19th century, and further, if an actual Babbage engine (Charles Babbage designed a mechanical computer) had been built to perform the computations that would allow accurate historical predictions to be made. Imagine that this person, or group had the power to affect the course of history by making specific changes to key events or individuals, and that further, they had been secretly and successfully exercising this power for well over a century. Kind of like putting the efforts attributed to the Illuminati or the Trilateral Commission on a scientific basis and making them real, instead of existing solely in the minds of conspiracy theory buffs.

Unfortunately, instead of exploring the ramifications of this intriguing concept, Flynn’s story quickly bogs down into depicting the internecine struggles that erupt as present day successors of these groups discover that they are not alone, that there exists not just one such group, but several, and more seem to come to light on every page. And the book soon devolves into more of a political action thriller than true science fiction, as these secret societies fight amongst themselves, and against the public outcry that develops once their existence becomes widely known. Not particularly recommended unless you’re one of those conspiracy theory buffs.

For a much more entertaining look at what might have happened had the Babbage engine actually been built, see William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s superb 1991 novel, The Difference Engine.

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