Muse du Jour

My name is Marianne Plumridge. I am an artist of mythic fantasy works and fine art images. I also satisfy my creative muse with sewing, cooking, writing and reading. These are my thoughts and adventures with whichever muse drives me each day. You can find more of my art at www.marianneplumridge.com

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Location: New England, United States

Sunday, July 08, 2007

In the Country of the Blind...a Book Review


IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND
by Michael Flynn.
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TOR Science Fiction; Paperback; ISBN 0-765-34498-X; $7.99 US549 pages; Original Edition 1990 published by Baen Books; Updated for First Edition 2001 (TOR Books) and First Mass Market Edition March 2003.
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Includes article: “Afterword: An Introduction to Cliology” (Copyright 1988)
Reviewed by Marianne Plumridge – February 2004
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In this fast paced novel, an erudite, serious, young businesswoman, Sarah Beaumont, asks too many questions about a simple historic subject. She and her business partner are naïve enough to believe, much like the rest of us, that history lies in the dead past – or should do. Back in the 19th century, Charles Babbage conceived a theoretical ‘analytical engine’ that appears to Beaumont, to be the original design of the first computer. She believes that this will be a major selling point in a property she intends to buy and develop. An eagerly acquisitive learning curve and earnest curiosity lead her to innocently investigate – and subsequently to a series of dead bodies, one of which is nearly her own. It appears that two factions of the same antique ‘Babbage Society’ are fighting a very real war behind the scenes. Things get complicated from there on. It seems that the original members of the ‘Babbage Society’ weren’t the only ones interested in controlling history and historic events.

Michael Flynn has written an extremely likeable novel of deeply researched theories. His explanations about the Babbage Engine and its applications are in-depth and knowledgeable, however they run the big risk of bogging the reader down in exposition. I myself was neatly tripped up a few times during parts of the novel where a lot of action was happening.

The characters are engaging and charismatic, with a certain amount of depth that allows the reader to care about them. As the main protagonist, Sarah’s greatest flaw is not being able to let herself depend on anyone. However she is quite capable of handling just about anything else and saves her own fair share of ‘backsides’ – including her own – throughout the novel. Her storehouse of knowledge, and how to use it, is gleaned from an insatiable curiosity and a need to know, and also long history of taking short courses. Sarah also has the courage to put her money where her mouth is and use her knowledge - in self-defense, as a weapon, and to keep one step ahead of whoever is chasing her at any given time. All this, and her ability to remember practically everything she ever learned, makes the character of Sarah rather daunting and just a little too good to be true. It’s a marginal feeling, however. Her resilience as a ‘survivor of the East Chicago ghetto who got out’ depends on her being able to protect herself physically, mentally and financially. Mr Flynn’s text makes it believable. The other characters’ reaction to Sarah is intriguing and sometimes funny. The parallel protagonist, Jeremy, is a friend of Sarah’s, and is a more sympathetic character than she. The two have the same goals: stay alive and find their friend Dennis. They may take slightly different paths, and different variations of trial-by-fire danger, but Sarah and Dennis finally get linked up again in the end. Their respective romantic situations – hers just beginning, his irredeemable – form a satisfying conclusion, but a big question mark hovers around the whole situation. The societies will continue, but the shaky alliances makes one wonder what is going to happen next. This, after all, is but one dangerous episode in a long and sometimes very bloody history.

I’m kind of left wondering if there is going to be a sequel, and perhaps what would happen if this was applied to the space-age future.

For an urban fantastical drama, “In the Country of the Blind” makes brilliant use of the ‘what if’ principle and the ability of some things to survive, be it humans, ideas, or ideals. The author has achieved this without placing the technology too far beyond belief by using supercomputers or cyberspace. Human imagination and logic formed the base of Cliology and it’s historic beginnings, but its use and misuses remain solely in the realm of human foibles and flaws, heroism and sacrifice. Read the book and find out just how much.

I really liked this novel, and when I went back to reread scenes and characters, I felt myself drawn back into the story again – enough to lose a couple of hours. This doesn’t happen to me very often. Well done, Mr. Flynn. I’m looking forward to reading your next novel.

Marianne Plumridge

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