40th Anniversary Celebration: An Appreciation of Michael Flynn’s In the Country of the Blind, the 1991 Prometheus Best Novel winner

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.

For both novels, a central technology was Charles Babbage’s “analytical engine,” a proposed machine that would have been fully programmable in the manner of an electronic computer.

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).

Continue reading 40th Anniversary Celebration: An Appreciation of Michael Flynn’s In the Country of the Blind, the 1991 Prometheus Best Novel winner

New Neal Stephenson book in 2019

Many libertarian SF fans enjoy the fiction of Neal Stephenson. He has won the Prometheus Award twice, in 2016 for Seveneves and in 2005 for The System of the World. He also was awarded the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2013 for Cryptonomicon.

So it’s welcome news for many of us that Stephenson will have a new novel, Fall; Or, Dodge in Hell out on June 4, 2019.

From the publisher’s blurb:

In his youth, Richard “Dodge” Forthrast founded Corporation 9592, a gaming company that made him a multibillionaire. Now in his middle years, Dodge appreciates his comfortable, unencumbered life, managing his myriad business interests, and spending time with his beloved niece Zula and her young daughter, Sophia.

One beautiful autumn day, while he undergoes a routine medical procedure, something goes irrevocably wrong. Dodge is pronounced brain dead and put on life support, leaving his stunned family and close friends with difficult decisions. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company now owned by enigmatic tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive despite their misgivings, Dodge’s family has his brain scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived.

In the coming years, technology allows Dodge’s brain to be turned back on. It is an achievement that is nothing less than the disruption of death itself. An eternal afterlife—the Bitworld—is created, in which humans continue to exist as digital souls.

But this brave new immortal world is not the Utopia it might first seem . . .

Fall, or Dodge in Hell is pure, unadulterated fun: a grand drama of analog and digital, man and machine, angels and demons, gods and followers, the finite and the eternal. In this exhilarating epic, Neal Stephenson raises profound existential questions and touches on the revolutionary breakthroughs that are transforming our future. Combining the technological, philosophical, and spiritual in one grand myth, he delivers a mind-blowing speculative literary saga for the modern age.

Neal Stephenson wins 2018 Heinlein Award

 

Neal Stephenson (Creative Commons photo) 

Neal Stephenson, a favorite of many of us in the Libertarian Futurist Society, has won the 2018 Robert A. Heinlein Award.

The award is given for “outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space.”

Stephenson has won the Prometheus Award twice, for Seveneves and The System of the World, and our Hall of Fame Award, for Cryptonomicon. Heinlein has won the Hall of Fame Award seven times for works such as The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. 

The Baltimore Science Fiction Society has an article with more information on the Heinlein Award, including a list of past winners.