Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon Jun 18 22:07:40 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #72

%T The Country of the Blind
%A Michael F. Flynn
%I Ban
%D July 1990
%O paperback, US$4.95
%P 527
%G 0-671-69886-9

This novel brings together a number of novella and novelette-length pieces previously published in Analog. It's to Flynn's credit that the seams in the book version don't show much even if you know where to look, but I'm still disturbed by the trend it exemplifies. I'd rather see more magazine stories standing on their own, rather than created as carefully-parcelled-out teasers for the next book.

Such quibbles aside, though, the novel is OK. Flynn brings some new energy to the psychohistory motif by supposing that secret societies of `cliologists' (Clio was the muse of history) have been manipulating world events since the mid-19th century. This idea of predictive statistical sociology is not really any more plausible than it was in Asimov's original or Gordon Dickson's recent bomb Wolf And Iron (see RR#42), but it's made to seem so by Flynn's canny use of terminology from chaos theory and even a well-chosen equation or two.

Our viewpoint character is Denver real-estate developer Sarah Beaumont. An oddly mixed list of historical events she finds in the wall of a building she's inspecting stimulates her to curiosity about one Brady Quinn, a shadowy statistician murdered on a Denver street long before she was born. She discovers that Quinn was one victim of warfare between rival secret societies of cliologists -- and that her inquisitiveness has put own life is in danger.

She is taken in by one group which uses the innocuous name `Utopian Research Associates'. The Associates regard themselves as the true inheritors of the Babbage Society, the original cliological group formed in the early 1800s. They exist primarily to protect the secret of cliology -- and to thwart the aims of the degraded Babbage Society, which is attempting to program the U.S. into a docile "managed society" of technocrats and technopeasants.

Sarah wants to blow the whistle on both groups -- make the secret of cliology irreversibly public. But that may only leave the field to the most ruthless -- because the Associates and the Society, as it turns out, are not the only players in the game...

Flynn succeeds in raising some interesting ethical issues with his what-if. Does a sure predictive grasp on the consequences of human action entail a responsibility to act not shared by those who can't see ahead? What if the necessary action is secret? And what if it is a murder?

I wish those issues had been explored further. Instead, the last third of the book is nearly pure suspense thriller -- fun stuff, but I could get better from the Ludlums or Higginses of the world. I'm sure something more original and with better SF values could have been done instead.

That aside, Flynn is clearly a writer to watch. His work in Analog has been of high quality (showing up in this and last year's AnLab listings). It's a pleasure to see him beginning to stretch into the novel form. I hope for more and better from him in the years ahead.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon Jun 18 22:07:40 EDT 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>