Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society is celebrating in 2019, we are posting a series of weekly Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our earliest Best Novel awards.
Here’s the 11th appreciation/review, following recent appreciations for award-winning novels by (among others) F. Paul Wilson, L. Neil Smith, Vernor Vinge, Victor Koman and Brad Linaweaver:
By William H. Stoddard
Michael Flynn’s In the Country of the Blind came out in 1990, the same year as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine. While the word “steampunk” was somewhat older (coined in 1987 by K.W. Jeter for Victorian fantasies generally), these two novels gave the genre one of its central themes: the use of Victorian technology and social transformation as an analog of (then-) recent computer technology, making steampunk parallel to cyberpunk.
Gibson and Sterling made the analytical engine the basis for an alternate history – a literal “difference engine.” Flynn did something subtler: He made the analytical engine the basis for an only minimally fictionalized version of real-world history.
Most of his novel was set in the present or the near future; the actual Victorian past appeared only in short prologues to its three sections -though strikingly evocative prologues. Rather than an “alternate history,” Flynn presented a “secret history”: a tale of striking events hidden unsuspected within the known past (a genre later put to epic use in Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle).