In the 19th century, a small group of American idealists managed to actually build Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine and use it to develop Cliology, mathematical models that could chart the likely course of the future. Soon they were working to alter history’s course as they thought best.
By our own time, the Society has become the secret master of the world. But no secret can be kept forever, at least not without drastic measures. When her plans for some historic real estate lead developer and ex-reporter Sarah Beaumont to stumble across the Society’s existence, it’s just the first step into a baffling and deadly maze of conspiracies.
©1990 Michael Flynn (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
If you enjoy books about "secret histories", competing "spy" agencies, and general chaos, this is a good book to get into.
In the first half of the book the main character discovers some historical oddities that pique her curiosity, and she starts researching the issue. She discovers that over a hundred years ago a group of scientists figured out how to predict the future, and thus how to control it. Of course the descendants of that cabal are none too pleased when they discover her digging into their secrets, and pretty soon she's running for her life.
The second half of the book is where the real fun starts, as gradually everyone who thought they were in complete control of not only their own destiny but that of the world itself gradually discover just how wrong they were.
Pleasantly the book is not _all_ about the conspiracies and the spying and the chasing. The characters also take time to discuss the ethics and implications of being able to predict the future. Different characters have different opinions about what it means in terms of free will and human rights and such, and although the debates can get a bit heated at time there is no real "winner" and no particular opinion is put forth as being the definitive right answer.
The only shortcoming of the book is the end. A gradually escalating web of conflicting conspiracies turns into a a chase scene in the last couple chapters, The survival of the main character is at stake, but the actual not-quite-resolution of the greater issues is handled in the epilogue. I still think the books is well worth reading, just be forewarned that the conclusion might not be quite as satisfying as you might like. (cf. Neal Stephenson.)
Also, the main character is a bit of a Mary Sue. She's a successful realtor and ex-reporter who's also an expert computer programer and a wilderness survival expert on the side. Oh yes, and she can play the piano.
And for those who appreciate such things, the cast is somewhat diverse. The main character is black and the secondary main character, who is not introduced till later in the book, is gay. (He starts off slightly campy, but grows as the story progresses.)
Social Scientist and Researcher; mostly retired but conducting longitudinal research into social issues especially the media and social networking. Avid SF and alternative history fan; enjoy a good crime yarn and have become something of an addict for audiobooks.
Michael Flynn is a very accomplished writer and I have several of his books in hardback or paperback form. This is a classic conspiracy theory that maintains Charles Babbage's "difference engine" was built and used to change history. The Babbage story in itself is fascinating and worth reading and a number of replicas do work but they are advanced calculating machines rather than computers. This is a book where you have to switch worlds to a parallel time and immerse yourself for a reasonably complex plot and some taut action about the way organizations rise and fall, split and admit to human weaknesses. Mr. Flynn conveys the outdoors in a very beautiful manner. This is not a book for everyone but rewards the diligent reader.
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