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Flynn, Michael F

Entry updated 1 January 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1947-2023) US author who began publishing sf with "Slan Libh" in Analog for November 1984, and who soon became identified as one of the most sophisticated and stylistically acute 1980s Analog regulars, some of his work appearing as by Rowland Shew. The latter byline appeared on the slightly earlier "The Quality Throop" (February 1984 Analog), a contribution to the magazine's occasional Kelvin Throop (which see) department. Flynn was soon recognized as a central modern creator of Hard SF; much of his earlier short work is assembled in The Forest of Time and Other Stories (coll 1997). Flynn's first novel, In the Country of the Blind (1990), is an Alternate-History thriller based on the premise that Charles Babbage's early-nineteenth-century Computer did in fact work, and is being used by a secret society to predict (and therefore to control) events. A twentieth-century woman hacker discovers the conspiracy and exposes its databases by use of a computer worm; this novel won a Prometheus Award as Libertarian SF and the Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Memorial Award as best debut. Babbage's computer, by coincidence, features similarly in The Difference Engine (1990) by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Flynn's second novel was Fallen Angels (1991) with Larry Niven (whom see for details) and Jerry Pournelle. His third book, The Nanotech Chronicles (coll of linked stories 1991), presents, with all his engagingly lurid competence, a set of tales which exploit speculations about the future of molecular engineering (see Nanotechnology).

Flynn's most conspicuous enterprise in the 1990s was the Future History Firestar sequence – comprising Firestar (1996), Rogue Star (1998), Lodestar (2000) and Falling Stars (2001) – focusing on interactions and clashes between politics and high technology (NASA is constantly under threat) in a Near Future America redeemed, in the end, by the valour of flawed but pertinacious entrepreneurs and scientists who join forces to respond to the main external challenge offered to chasten this episteme: an Alien race has boobytrapped a large array of asteroids so that they threaten to impact Earth, causing Disaster on an inconceivable scale. This is averted in the nick. Told in a more extravagantly baroque, myth- and legend-evoking manner, and set thousands of years hence, the follow-up series – the Spiral Arm sequence comprising The January Dancer (2008), Up Jim River (2010) and In the Lion's Mouth (2012), which is told within a Club Story frame – moves into a Space Opera arena centred on the rim of the Galactic Lens, where romance and dynastic conflict and avatars intersect and conflict exuberantly, all enabled by Wormholes named after highways from old Earth; the baroque legend-telling archaicizing rhetoric of the sequence, at times reminiscent of Poul Anderson's sf at its most romantic, neatly conflates with the Medieval Futurism that dominates at least one of the conflicting multi-planet cultures.

Also of interest are the two standalone novels Flynn has published in the new century. The Wreck of The River of Stars (2003) is the complex, character-based narrative of the doomed last voyage of The River of Stars, an obsolete Spaceship whose archaic kilometres-wide sails are deployed, in the end, to fatal effect. Eifelheim (November 1986 Analog; much exp 2006) joins a short canon of effective First Contact novels in which the impact of an Alien landing on Earth is epistemologically complicated by the fact that that landing takes place in our past, affecting societies with no concept of other worlds to help their understanding. Other titles of similar interest include Karen Joy Fowler's Sarah Canary (1991), Algis Budrys's Hard Landing (October/November 1992 F&SF; 1993), Patricia Anthony's God's Fires (1997) and Michel Faber' s Under the Skin (2000). In this case the society impacted is medieval Germany, the aliens are insect-like, and the efforts of a twenty-century duo to work out the nature of what occurred in the village of Eifelheim tellingly contrasts with the investigations of a local priest. In the end, the Plague hastens the aliens' departure in their partially repaired ship. Flynn's story "Quaestiones Super Caelo et Mundo" (July/August 2007 Analog) was a tied winner of the short-form Sidewise Award.

Continuing narrative self-consciousness sometimes hampered Flynn's later work, but his intellectual energy was very considerable, and his storylines remain compulsive. [JC]

see also: Astounding Science-Fiction; Machines; Robert A Heinlein Award; Seiun Award; Steampunk; Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.

Michael Francis Flynn

born Easton, Pennsylvania: 20 December 1947

died Easton, Pennsylvania: 30 September 2023




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