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In the Country of the Blind (1990)

by Michael Flynn

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3981064,084 (3.53)6
In the nineteenth century, a small group of American idealists managed to actually build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine and use it to develop Cliology, mathematical models that could chart the likely course of the future. Soon they were working to alter history's course as they thought best. By our own time, 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's just the first step into a baffling and deadly maze of conspiracies.… (more)
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» See also 6 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
A fantastic premise and fairly good execution.

The basic idea is similar to the starting point of Asimov's Foundation series: that a secret society has discovered how to compute what will happen in history. Except that it's not set in the far future, it's set in the recent past. The sort of thing that could be going on now.

What's particularly fascinating about it for me was:

(a) It's more realistic than Asimov's Foundation--there are better limits on what could and could not be done. Better explanation of why nobody but this secret society does it.

(b) The dynamics of the secret society are much more realistic. These are realistic people, with realistic disagreements. Some of the people are moral, some less so. (This is partly where conflict arises.)

(c) There are things in here that somebody like Asimov really *should* have thought of when he imagined a society that has figured out the math of history and how to predict it. I came away amazed: Flynn was exactly right, that is what *would* happen, but I (and apparently Asimov) never thought of it. Unfortunately I can't discuss these details without ruining the surprise, which would frankly damage the story.

The characters are so-so. Not bad. It's told from the viewpoint of someone who is discovering all this from the outside, and she's a fairly interesting character. Flynn does a really good job of letting the discovery unfold for you. The rest of the characters are ok. The fascinating part, for me, was the exploration of the idea: what she discovers.

If you've read this review so far, you probably want a more detailed comparison with the Foundation series. The Foundation series was interesting because it explored ideas of how history *ought* to work which are counterintuitive (e.g., the great general in the last days of the empire will never be allowed to succeed in an invasion, because of the dynamics of the empire; basically, why Belisarius was never allowed to succeed). This book has none of that. Rather than being about the dynamics of history, it's about the dynamics of the secret society that understands and predicts history. In the Foundation series (at least in the first part), you find that the characters for the most part did nothing at all; what happened was just inevitable, and what the characters did was futile from the start. (It was a minor triumph of Asimov to turn crushing, blind historical inevitability into an interesting story.) In this story, the characters are doing something: mostly, working against each other, exploring how they should use their knowledge.

Later on, Asimov's Foundation wandered off into other territory: first breaking his thesis that history could be predicted (the Mule), then into mind magic, ESP, etc. (the Second Foundation). (I don't know why, but almost all the hard science fiction guys eventually would up with mind magic.) This story has none of that. ( )
  garyrholt | Nov 5, 2020 |
My reactions to reading this novel in 1991. Spoilers follow.

This book features implausible hypnoconditioning turning unsuspecting individuals into disposable pawns; an annoying, little explained rescue of Red Malone and Sarah Beaumont by Janie Hatch at, of course, the opportune cliffhanging moment; an obvious plot twist (Alan Selkirk being a double agent), a somewhat inconclusive ending (How is cliology going to affect society? Will its secret be released so the general public can do it? Will a confederation, a secret cabal, of cliologists be formed?), a Secret Innocently Discovered plot rife with coincidence; characters alternately brilliant (like Sarah) and somewhat slow (in her objections to cliology which Red Malone has obvious answers for.

All that said, I liked this book and thought it was well done. First and most important, Flynn knows the main attraction of the story; it’s not the story of secret cabals; it’s the science of cliology. It’s fascination is much like that of Isaac Asimov’s psychohistory. But Flynn gives much more explicit detail using the statistical modeling of social, economic, and political trends, by using the biological analogy and ecological paradigms -- particularly in the considerations of manipulation through secondary effects, the meme of memes, and examples. His science seems real, and he deals at great length with the ethical, philosophical, and moral questions of the science: Is it moral?, Is it coercion, manipulation? Doesn’t everyone attempt manipulation of the future scientifically or intuitively?, Do cliologists get blamed for only bad or credit for good?, Is cliology fate?, Who must be sacrificed when attempting cliological manipulation?, Doesn’t everyone attempt manipulation of the future scientifically or intuitively?, Do cliologists get blamed for only bad or credit for good?, Is cliology fate?, Who must be sacrificed when attempting cliological manipulation? Should manipulation be done even?

Flynn seems to say, at story’s end, that everyone should know of cliology so that the masses are not manipulated by an elite. Manipulation by a few, even for good reasons (it is suggested slavery was ended by manipulation via cliology), is bad. This plays into Flynn’s railing against the “managed society” manifested by both communism and corporate management. Yet, I sense in this novel a ideaological contradiction. On the one hand, Sarah Beaumont represents the competent woman (a black woman at that from poor Chicago) who rises above circumstance, who makes her own luck, her own way. Yet, she complains at how the manipulation of cliologists has preyed on pepole. Is Flynn saying we are victims or masters of our own fate? I think he intends to say we are masters of our fate but confined by certain sociological, political, economic laws and trends the way man has free will tempered by the laws of physics. The contradiction in Sarah’s character is Flynn’s way of humanizing the ethical and philosophical questions.

Flynn, in addition to his grasp of computers, the corporate world, topology, history, and music, shows a grasp of literature. Sarah may be a Heinlein (there are specific allusions to him and other sf authors) character, but she still needs to learn the lesson of reconciling independence and dependence. Flynn symbolizes this thematically with her relationship with Malone and the final scene where Sarah’s music becomes part of a band. Flynn also never strays far, with spy plots and romance from his main attraction of cliology. It is only in the last fourth of the book, when cliology’s dominance gives way to skullduggery’s, that the suspense lags. This is a novel of ideas.

I also thought Flynn’s best character was Daniel Kennison not Sarah. Kennison is an interesting combination of gentleman (complete with noblesse oblige and contempt for the lower class), manipulator, self-deceiver (particularly in his over estimation of his abilities and, also it seems, in the depth of his sexual dependence and self-degradation in the Prudence affair), and ultimately ineffectual schemer.

This story of ideas and their implications is much influenced by Heinlein. There are the competent characters and lectures. Flynn is mainly about shaking up preconceptions, provoking thought with the racial and sexual identities of his characters, and delivering mental kicks to the brain. Flynn makes novel comparisions: he lumps laissez-faire capitalists and environmentalists together as well as communists and corporate managers. His cliologists tell us that there are no simple answers (even in terms of methodology) for complex problems yet, at another time, cliologist Vane says that idea is a meme perpetuated by them: sometimes the complex is simply solvable.

An enjoyable novel of ideas. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Oct 11, 2012 |
When I first read this book it was in the Library when I was searching on things about Cliology. Reading this fictional account of the "Babbage Analytical Engines" peaked my interest and it ended up being a cover to cover read in one sitting.

Side Note: Cliology Technically isn't even a word in the Dictionary yet it's been around for years. There's even a "Journal of Cliodynamics", all on the up and up and nothing secret like the book.

Suffice it to say, the subject of this book was well thought out and most imaginative. Our Heroine, Sarah Beaumont, finds her quest for truth replete with all the shenanigans of a very well written secret/clandestine conspiracy novel.

Flynn does get sidetracked in story development on more than one occasion but the story line is good enough to hold the readers interest long enough to wade through the explanations. Had I written the story myself, I could have been tempted to do likewise. ( )
  shieldwolf | Feb 7, 2011 |
An excellent alternate history novel, starting at the time of the Civil War. What if someone developed a calculating engine and a calculus capable of limited predictions of the future? What if two such organizations existed, competing against each other through the years? Secret societies do exist! At least in this book. This starts with a plausible premise and develops it very well, a very good alternate history. ( )
  Karlstar | Nov 24, 2009 |
This was a pleasant read. It has a few awkward moments, but there's lots of fun espionage. The appendix, while still having some novel bits today, must've been downright prescient when first written and manages to be both concise and plump. ( )
1 vote chellerystick | Mar 20, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
..."It seems that early in the 19th century a group of historians, politicians and mathematicians secretly developed a set of ''cliological'' equations that modeled human behavior within a reasonable margin of error. To crunch the numbers for specific predictions, they used Babbage Analytical Engines, pre-electronic protocomputers conceived by the English polymath Charles Babbage. Conventional history tells us that no such machine was built; Flynn knows otherwise."
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Flynn, Michaelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Posen, MikeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rheaume, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Dennis Harry Flynn (1948-1964) who would have been co-author
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The rain fell in torrents, beating a staccato rhythm on the cobblestoned street.
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In the nineteenth century, a small group of American idealists managed to actually build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine and use it to develop Cliology, mathematical models that could chart the likely course of the future. Soon they were working to alter history's course as they thought best. By our own time, 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's just the first step into a baffling and deadly maze of conspiracies.

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