In the Country of the Blind
by Michael Flynn

An excellent mystery novel set in the 1990s in America. It is good enough to win a Hugo, if it were a science-fiction novel, but it barely qualifies as science fiction. It is based on the premise that people secretly developed Babbage’s idea for a mechanical computer and have been refining it and using it since the 1800s to predict probabilities and to take steps to intervene in history at key points. I won the Prometheus Award for being the best libertarian science-fiction book of the year, but there is nothing particularly libertarian about it.

Lysander Spooner is mentioned twice. Other than that and the fact that computer nerds are involved, it contains no hint that the author is libertarian. The main character is a black woman who has conventional views about politics. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of her heroes.

“habits were self-booting programs.” (11)

“A free choice is predictable.”
“No, I can’t buy that.”
“It’s the irrational choice that’s unpredictable. That’s what makes madmen so frightening. A free choice is rational more often than not.” (115)

“You see, every action has unintended spin-offs. For example, the liberation of educated, white, suburban females meant unemployment for uneducated, black, urban males. And it doesn’t matter that that wasn’t anyone’s intention!” He interjected, stifling her protest. “After all, proponents of defense spending never intended to hand the consumer electronics market over to the Japanese, either. But that’s what happened when the cream of our engineering talent was lured into armaments and aerospace. Every engineer working on better bombs was an engineer not working on better TV’s and stereos.” (117)

“But no data is raw. It is always cooked. ... there can be no facts without theory.” (254)

Year Read: 2001


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