The Difference Engine

The Difference Engine

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Overview

The 20th anniversary edition of the classic steampunk novel
With new commentary by the authors
 
1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine, and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. Three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with the future: Sybil Gerard—fallen woman, politician’s tart, daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward “Leviathan” Mallory—explorer and paleontologist; Laurence Oliphant—diplomat, mystic, and spy. Their adventure begins with the discovery of a box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for.

Part detective story, part historical thriller, The Difference Engine took the science fiction community by storm when it was first published twenty years ago. This special anniversary edition features an Introduction by Cory Doctorow and a collaborative essay from the authors looking back on their creation. Provocative, compelling, intensely imagined, this novel is poised to impress a whole new generation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440423621
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/26/2011
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 202,541
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

William Gibson is credited with having coined the term "cyberspace" and having envisioned both the Internet and virtual reality before either existed. He is the author of NeuromancerCount Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Burning Chrome, Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow's Parties, Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Zero History, Distrust That Particular Flavor, and The Peripheral. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife.  

Bruce Sterling is an Austin-born science fiction writer and Net critic, internationally recognized as a cyberspace theorist who is also considered one of the forefathers of the cyberpunk movement in science fiction. He has won a John W. Campbell Award, two Hugo Awards, and an Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Hometown:

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Date of Birth:

March 17, 1948

Place of Birth:

Conway, South Carolina

Education:

B.A., University of British Columbia, 1977

Read an Excerpt

First Iteration

The Angel of Goliad

Composite image, optically encoded by escort-craft of the trans-Channel airship Lord Brunel: aerial view of suburban Cherbourg, October 14, 1905.

A villa, a garden, a balcony.

Erase the balcony’s wrought-iron curves, exposing a bath-chair and its occupant. Reflected sunset glints from the nickel-plate of the chair’s wheel-spokes.

The occupant, owner of the villa, rests her arthritic hands upon fabric woven by a Jacquard loom.

These hands consist of tendons, tissue, jointed bone. Through quiet processes of time and information, threads within the human cells have woven themselves into a woman.

Her name is Sybil Gerard.

Below her, in a neglected formal garden, leafless vines lace wooden trellises on whitewashed, flaking walls. From the open windows of her sickroom, a warm draft stirs the loose white hair at her neck, bringing scents of coal-smoke, jasmine, opium.

Her attention is fixed upon the sky, upon a silhouette of vast and irresistible grace--metal, in her lifetime, having taught itself to fly. In advance of that magnificence, tiny unmanned aeroplanes dip and skirl against the red horizon.

Like starlings, Sybil thinks.

The airship’s lights, square golden windows, hint at human warmth. Effortlessly, with the incomparable grace of organic function, she imagines a distant music there, the music of London: the passengers promenade, they drink, they flirt, perhaps they dance.

Thoughts come unbidden, the mind weaving its perspectives, assembling meaning from emotion and memory.

She recalls her life in London. Recalls herself, so long ago, making her way along the Strand, pressing past the crush at Temple Bar. Pressing on, the city of Memory winding itself about her--till, by the walls on Newgate, the shadow of her father’s hanging falls . . .

And Memory turns, deflected swift as light, down another byway--one where it is always evening. . . .

It is January 15, 1855.

A room in Grand’s Hotel, Piccadilly.



One chair was propped backward, wedged securely beneath the door’s cut-glass knob. Another was draped with clothing: a woman’s fringed mantelet, a mud-crusted skirt of heavy worsted, a man’s checked trousers and cutaway coat.

Two forms lay beneath the bedclothes of the laminated-maple four-poster, and off in the iron grip of winter Big Ben bellowed ten o’clock, great hoarse calliope sounds, the coal-fired breath of London.

Sybil slid her feet through icy linens to the warmth of the ceramic bottle in its wrap of flannel. Her toes brushed his shin. The touch seemed to start him from deep deliberation. That was how he was, this Dandy Mick Radley.

She’d met Mick Radley at Laurent’s Dancing Academy, down Windmill Street. Now that she knew him, he seemed more the sort for Kellner’s in Leicester Square, or even the Portland Rooms. He was always thinking, scheming, muttering over something in his head. Clever, clever. It worried her. And Mrs. Winterhalter wouldn’t have approved, for the handling of “political gentlemen” required delicacy and discretion, qualities Mrs. Winterhalter believed she herself had a‑plenty, while crediting none to her girls.

“No more dollymopping, Sybil,” Mick said. One of his pronouncements, something about which he’d made up his clever mind.

Sybil grinned up at him, her face half-hidden by the blanket’s warm edge. She knew he liked the grin. Her wicked-girl grin. He can’t mean that, she thought. Make a joke of it, she told herself. “But if I weren’t a wicked dollymop, would I be here with you now?”

“No more playing bobtail.”

“You know I only go with gentlemen.”

Mick sniffed, amused. “Call me a gentleman, then?”

“A very flash gentleman,” Sybil said, flattering him. “One of the fancy. You know I don’t care for the Rad Lords. I spit on ’em, Mick.”

Sybil shivered, but not unhappily, for she’d run into a good bit of luck here, full of steak-and-taters and hot chocolate, in bed between clean sheets in a fashionable hotel. A shiny new hotel with central steam-heat, though she’d gladly have traded the restless gurgling and banging of the scrolled gilt radiator for the glow of a well-banked hearth.

And he was a good-looking cove, this Mick Radley, she had to admit, dressed very flash, had the tin and was generous with it, and he’d yet to demand anything peculiar or beastly. She knew it wouldn’t last, as Mick was a touring gent from Manchester, and gone soon enough. But there was profit in him, and maybe more when he left her, if she made him feel sorry about it, and generous.

Mick reclined into fat feather-pillows and slid his manicured fingers behind his spit-curled head. Silk nightshirt all frothy with lace down the front--only the best for Mick. Now he seemed to want to talk a bit. Men did, usually, after a while--about their wives, mostly.

But for Dandy Mick, it was always politics. “So, you hate the Lordships, Sybil?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Sybil said. “I have my reasons.”

“I should say you do,” Mick said slowly, and the look he gave her then, of cool superiority, sent a shiver through her.

“What d’ye mean by that, Mick?”

“I know your reasons for hating the Government. I have your number.”

Surprise seeped into her, then fear. She sat up in bed. There was a taste in her mouth like cold iron.

“You keep your card in your bag,” he said. “I took that number to a rum magistrate I know. He ran it through a government Engine for me, and printed up your Bow Street file, rat-a-tat-tat, like fun.” He smirked. “So I know all about you, girl. Know who you are . . .”

She tried to put a bold face on it. “And who’s that, then, Mr. Radley?”

“No Sybil Jones, dearie. You’re Sybil Gerard, the daughter of Walter Gerard, the Luddite agitator.”

He’d raided her hidden past.

Machines, whirring somewhere, spinning out history.

Now Mick watched her face, smiling at what he saw there, and she recognized a look she’d seen before, at Laurent’s, when first he’d spied her across the crowded floor. A hungry look.

Her voice shook. “How long have you known about me?”

“Since our second night. You know I travel with the General. Like any important man, he has enemies. As his secretary and man-of-affairs, I take few chances with strangers.” Mick put his cruel, deft little hand on her shoulder. “You might have been someone’s agent. It was business.”

Sybil flinched away. “Spying on a helpless girl,” she said at last. “You’re a right bastard, you are!”

But her foul words scarcely seemed to touch him--he was cold and hard, like a judge or a lordship. “I may spy, girl, but I use the Government’s machinery for my own sweet purposes. I’m no copper’s nark, to look down my nose at a revolutionary like Walter Gerard--no matter what the Rad Lords may call him now. Your father was a hero.”

He shifted on the pillow. “My hero--that was Walter Gerard. I saw him speak, on the Rights of Labour, in Manchester. He was a marvel--we all cheered till our throats was raw! The good old Hell-Cats . . .” Mick’s smooth voice had gone sharp and flat, in a Mancunian tang. “Ever hear tell of the Hell-Cats, Sybil? In the old days?”

“A street-gang,” Sybil said. “Rough boys in Manchester.”

Mick frowned. “We was a brotherhood! A friendship youth-guild! Your father knew us well. He was our patron politician, you might say.”

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t speak of my father, Mr. Radley.”

Mick shook his head at her impatiently. “When I heard they’d tried and hanged him”--the words like ice behind her ribs--“me and the lads, we took up torches and crowbars, and we ran hot and wild. . . . That was Ned Ludd’s work, girl! Years ago . . .” He picked delicately at the front of his nightshirt. “ ’Tis not a tale I tell to many. The Government’s Engines have long memories.”

She understood it now--Mick’s generosity and his sweet-talk, the strange hints he’d aimed at her, of secret plans and better fortune, marked cards and hidden aces. He was pulling her strings, making her his creature. The daughter of Walter Gerard was a fancy prize, for a man like Mick.

She pulled herself out of bed, stepping across icy floorboards in her pantalettes and chemise.

She dug quickly, silently, through the heap of her clothing. The fringed mantelet, the jacket, the great sagging cage of her crinoline skirt. The jingling white cuirass of her corset.

“Get back in bed,” Mick said lazily. “Don’t get your monkey up. ’Tis cold out there.” He shook his head. “ ’Tis not like you think, Sybil.”

She refused to look at him, struggling into her corset by the window, where frost-caked glass cut the upwashed glare of gaslight from the street. She cinched the corset’s laces tight across her back with a quick practiced snap of her wrists.

“Or if it is,” Mick mused, watching her, “ ’tis only in small degree.”

Across the street, the opera had let out--gentry in their cloaks and top-hats. Cab-horses, their backs in blankets, stamped and shivered on the black macadam. White traces of clean suburban snow still clung to the gleaming coachwork of some lordship’s steam-gurney. Tarts were working the crowd. Poor wretched souls. Hard indeed to find a kind face amid those goffered shirts and diamond studs, on such a cold night. Sybil turned toward Mick, confused, angry, and very much afraid. “Who did you tell about me?”

“Not a living soul,” Mick said, “not even my friend the General. And I won’t be peaching on you. Nobody’s ever said Mick Radley’s indiscreet. So get back in bed.”

“I shan’t,” Sybil said, standing straight, her bare feet freezing on the floorboards. “Sybil Jones may share your bed--but the daughter of Walter Gerard is a personage of substance!”

Mick blinked at her, surprised. He thought it over, rubbing his narrow chin, then nodded. “ ’Tis my sad loss, then, Miss Gerard.” He sat up in bed and pointed at the door, with a dramatic sweep of his arm. “Put on your skirt, then, and your brass-heeled dolly-boots, Miss Gerard, and out the door with you and your substance. But ’twould be a great shame if you left. I’ve uses for a clever girl.”

“I should say you do, you blackguard,” said Sybil, but she hesitated. He had another card to play--she could sense it in the set of his face.

He grinned at her, his eyes slitted. “Have you ever been to Paris, Sybil?”

“Paris?” Her breath clouded in midair.

“Yes,” he said, “the gay and the glamorous, next destination for the General, when his London lecture tour is done.” Dandy Mick plucked at his lace cuffs. “What those uses are, that I mentioned, I shan’t as yet say. But the General is a man of deep stratagem. And the Government of France have certain difficulties that require the help of experts. . . .” He leered triumphantly. “But I can see that I bore you, eh?”

Sybil shifted from foot to foot. “You’ll take me to Paris, Mick,” she said slowly, “and that’s the true bill, no snicky humbugging?”

“Strictly square and level. If you don’t believe me, I’ve a ticket in my coat for the Dover ferry.”

Sybil walked to the brocade armchair in the corner, and tugged at Mick’s greatcoat. She shivered uncontrollably, and slipped the greatcoat on. Fine dark wool, like being wrapped in warm money.

“Try the right front pocket,” Mick told her. “The card-case.” He was amused and confident--as if it were funny that she didn’t trust him. Sybil thrust her chilled hands into both pockets. Deep, plush-lined . . .

Her left hand gripped a lump of hard cold metal. She drew out a nasty little pepperbox derringer. Ivory handle, intricate gleam of steel hammers and brass cartridges, small as her hand but heavy.

“Naughty,” said Mick, frowning. “Put it back, there’s a girl.”

Sybil put the thing away, gently but quickly, as if it were a live crab. In the other pocket she found his card-case, red morocco leather; inside were business cards, cartes-de-visite with his Engine-stippled portrait, a London train timetable.

And an engraved slip of stiff creamy parchment, first-class passage on the Newcomen, out of Dover.

“You’ll need two tickets, then,” she hesitated, “if you really mean to take me.”

Mick nodded, conceding the point. “And another for the train from Cherbourg, too. And nothing simpler. I can wire for tickets, downstairs at the lobby desk.”

Sybil shivered again, and wrapped the coat closer. Mick laughed at her. “Don’t give me that vinegar phiz. You’re still thinking like a dollymop; stop it. Start thinking flash, or you’ll be of no use to me. You’re Mick’s gal now--a high-flyer.”

She spoke slowly, reluctantly. “I’ve never been with any man who knew I was Sybil Gerard.” That was a lie, of course--there was Egremont, the man who had ruined her. Charles Egremont had known very well who she was. But Egremont no longer mattered--he lived in a different world, now, with his po-faced respectable wife, and his respectable children, and his respectable seat in Parliament.

And Sybil hadn’t been dollymopping, with Egremont. Not exactly, anyway. A matter of degree. . . .

She could tell that Mick was pleased at the lie she’d told him. It had flattered him.

Mick opened a gleaming cigar-case, extracted a cheroot, and lit it in the oily flare of a repeating match, filling the room with the candied smell of cherry tobacco.

“So now you feel a bit shy with me, do you?” he said at last. “Well, I prefer it that way. What I know, that gives me a bit more grip on you, don’t it, than mere tin.”

His eyes narrowed. “It’s what a cove knows that counts, ain’t it, Sybil? More than land or money, more than birth. Information. Very flash.”

Sybil felt a moment of hatred for him, for his ease and confidence. Pure resentment, sharp and primal, but she crushed her feelings down. The hatred wavered, losing its purity, turning to shame. She did hate him--but only because he truly knew her. He knew how far Sybil Gerard had fallen, that she had been an educated girl, with airs and graces, as good as any gentry girl, once.

From the days of her father’s fame, from her girlhood, Sybil could remember Mick Radley’s like. She knew the kind of boy that he had been. Ragged angry factory-boys, penny-a-score, who would crowd her father after his torchlight speeches, and do whatever he commanded. Rip up railroad tracks, kick the boiler-plugs out of spinning jennies, lay policemen’s helmets by his feet. She and her father had fled from town to town, often by night, living in cellars, attics, anonymous rooms-to-let, hiding from the Rad police and the daggers of other conspirators. And sometimes, when his own wild speeches had filled him with a burning elation, her father would embrace her and soberly promise her the world. She would live like gentry in a green and quiet England, when King Steam was wrecked. When Byron and his Industrial Radicals were utterly destroyed. . . .

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Breathtaking.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Smartly plotted, wonderfully crafted, and written with sly literary wit . . . spins marvelously and runs like a dream.”—Entertainment Weekly
 
“Splendid . . . highly imaginative.”—Chicago Tribune
 
“A ripping adventure yarn.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“[A] tour-de-force.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

Customer Reviews

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The Difference Engine 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent novel. Many of the main characters (if not all) are historical figures whose life paths have been rewritten somewhat by the authors to fit into the overall alternate universe they inhabit. I have a weakness for novels that educate as well as entertain, and within it's covers I found many interesting tidbits of information (such as the etymology of vitriol). The plot moved quickly enough to keep me interested, and the exploration of scientific theories and technical issues added flavor. I haven't read any other Bruce Sterling works, but if you are a fan of William Gibson, and historical novels, chances are you will enjoy this book immensely.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I completely disagree with the previous review by my fellow state - resident. I thought the book was imaginative, well-written, and a hell of a lot of fun. btw i'm a mathematician / programmer by profession, and didnt feel talked down to by this book...a rarity in sci-fi and speculative history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After having read several books by both William Gibson and Bruce Steriling the conclusion is unamimous. Both authors have a great sense for unique exciting new ideas but, when it comes to placing such concepts in a full legnth novel, the ideas get lost in a directionless collection of smaller stories that are haphazardly strung together. The trouble lies in a lack of building any sense of anticpation; foreshadowing exists not at all. As a result, the novel is nothing more than a group of loosely related happenings strung together by only the thinnest of threads. What is need is being able to leader the reader, bit by bit, to an ending that culminates with all the situations coming together in either an anticipated ending that explains the storyline in an exciting way or, if the situation warrants, an ending that is contrary to where one is lead to believe it might have been -- a'la the Twilight Zone type taled. Neither Mr. Gibson nor Mr. Sterling seem to have a solid grasp for any of this when it comes to creating a novel, instead both seem better at home in the realm of writing short stories where their talents truly shine.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1855 as the Industrial Revolution continues to pollute the big cities of England, Charles Babbage creates the steam driven analytical engine. The Luddites learn of this incredible advancement and vow to destroy this new use of technology that heralds the beginning of the Information Revolution. Mick Radley obtains key perforated cards, but when he is murdered the cards pass to his girlfriend Sybil Gerard who deals with General Houston and the Texian. Prime Minister Lord Byron's daughter Ada obtains the cards, but soon scientist Edward Mallory possesses the cards, but needs the Babbage analytical engine to read them. The Luddites attack him and his name. Eventually detective Lawrence Oliphant, who is dying from syphilis, investigates the mystery of the cards. The 20th Anniversary Edition of this complicated alternate history thriller shows the novel holds up well against the test of time as the London of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling remains an intriguing locale. Although the overall fast-paced plot decelerates at times especially in the middle of the Third Iteration and the finish not up to the complex story line, The Difference Engine is an engaging mystery set in a steampunk Victorian environment. With a Modus adding insight, sub-genre fans will enjoy this reprint. Harriet Klausner
Joel_M More than 1 year ago
What I appreciated about this steampunk book was that it didn't have the unrealistic supernatural/gothic element (vampires, werewolves, elder gods, etc.) that are in so many books of the sub-genre. It is just good, solid alternate history world-building. However the ending was disappointing / anticlimactic and a bit hard to understand since it was told in a completely different style than the rest of the book (via newspaper clippings).
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wish I could say what I think about this novel, but in order to do that, I'd have to know what it was about, and I honestly have no idea. It's set in an alternate past in the 19th century, there were plenty of interesting bits, there was a lot of talk about engines, which as I understood are precursors of modern computers, but mostly, I was just lost.
SlySionnach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I happen to be a fan of both Gibson and Sterling, in most of their works. So, of course, I am a bit biased in this review...That being said, The Difference Engine truly isn't "Steampunk" to me as much as a historical-fiction based on the past...with some fantastical elements thrown in. It's split into three points-of-view with one, secret box connecting them.Sybil, a working woman who happens to get herself entangled with the "right" man to take her away from her place in England to start a new life in France. Edward Mallory, whom the majority of the book is based around, is an archaeologist who discovered the Brontosaurus. The secret box is passed onto him, and we follow his tale of sabotage, espionage, and a Luddite conspiracy.Then we have Lawrence Oliphant, who happens to be behind all the scenes all the time. His bit at the end ties everything together.As to the story, it's a very innovative idea. I won't ruin the secrets or surprises, I promise. Basically, this box is holding something very important to the Queen of Engines (a nickname given to a mathematical genius) and as it gets passed on to each person, we begin to understand what it does more and more. However, when the secret eventually is unraveled, it's in an almost anti-climactic way. I was hoping that it would have something more important to the story than just a line or two of text.There was also the weird present tense "photographs" before each chapter (or what I'll call chapters). They weren't bad, but they did jar my from my reading flow.My other big problem is the last hundred or so pages with Oliphant. Some of the scenes were important in him tracking down the last owner of the box and the one who sent the mysterious telegram, but others seemed pointless. Like him playing with the Prince...the only thing I got from that was that he knew the Royals and had to be called away quickly. I might have been missing something, though.All in all, though, Mallory's part was my favorite and made the book worthwhile. There's nothing like following the life of a man who is slowly having his "savantry" (scientist) reputation torn to shreds AND he actually DOES something about it. This isn't going to be the next amazing thing you need to read. Shoot, it's not even going to be "Amazing!" But it is a good novel that will keep you compelled until the last hundred pages, at least.(Edited to Add: I cannot remove this spacing so...I apologize for it!)
Emidawg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What might have happened if Charles Babbage had finished building his steam powered computer. This is an alternative history book in which steam power (steampunk) runs the current industrial revolution. The book is very good, but somewhat difficult to follow. In all honesty while I enjoyed what I was reading I often found myself lost as to what was going on.All in all... a good read but not one you can just breeze through.
benfulton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't add anything to the other reviews. Yes, complicated, yes, a fascinating world, yes, steampunk works much better as a visual medium than it does as text. Yes, the plot is convoluted, yes, the characters are rather wooden. I think I would just say that once you get done with it, you'll be glad you read it, but I can't really imagine picking it up twice.
keywestnan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of my first forays into steampunk and it did take me a while to get into this novel -- but once I did, I enjoyed it. This novel creates a Victorian England where industrialism and an earlier form of computing has triumphed over all other political and social aspects of life. I like to care about the characters in a novel, even if they are not admirable people but the only one I really cared about in this book was Sybil Gerard and she disappeared early. Still, a worthwhile read especially if you're at all interested in steampunk and/or alternate history.
rondoctor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good writing, but the story line just sort of peters out. Most of the reviewers here seem to have missed the connection a running theme of a technological society producing devastating pollution producing suffering among the masses, but not the elite. This connects to the populist/communistic revolt, giving it a sense of purpose, and ultimately suppression and a return to normalcy. A related subplot running through the book (especially the last half) deals with big brother's capability to track the lives of people. The vignettes at the end seem to be afterthoughts, as if the authors had left over segments of text that they decided to craft into an ending. On the whole, I found the book mildly interesting, but an unsatisfying read.
michaeleconomy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like both Gibson (see: favorite author ever) and Sterling, and you can definitely tell that they both wrote this book, but the plot was like trying to be crazy, yet not crazy enough. It's almost like they wanted to make it super complicated, but then simplified it a bit too much.The imagery was cool, and the characters were great also, its weird though, this book almost felt like it was cut short. Not that I didn't enjoy the ending, I did, but the story felt like there were pieces cut out.
paulamcconnell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Complicated and difficult.
Panopticon2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow. It's Victorian Britain, but not as I know it. "The Difference Engine" is my first foray into the steampunk genre, and I enjoyed it immensely. Given that both authors are: a) Yanks, and b) not historians, their evocation of mid-Victorian London is amazingly rich, as is their grasp of Victorian vocabulary. So much so, as regards the latter, that I suspect the average reader would find large sections of this book incomprehensible. The entire concept - a world in which Charles Babbage's proto-computer (the difference engine) actually works, and is used by industry, government and the police - is wildly imaginative. This is a book I know I will want to read again, in order to appreciate more of its complexities (to wit, "The Eye," which hints at artificial intelligence). Not an easy read, nor a neat and tidy story, but very rewarding nonetheless.
Alleycatfish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I should have read the reviews on this book before picking it up. It was so boring. I struggled to finish it, and I only did so because it was a part of a reading challenge. It was a challenge to finish, let me tell you. Thankfully it was a library book.
jrep on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Attempts, for Steam Punk, what Gibson's earlier works did for Cyber Punk. Not as satisfactory, on the whole, though.
Cecilturtle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
To say that I was disappointed is to put it mildly. I'm not a big fan of science fiction, but I knew that Gibson is heralded as one of the best: I thought this book might be a good introduction. What a mistake! Whereas I started with an open mind and enjoyed the writing and attention to detail, I quickly became lost in the labyrinth of characters, historical and fictional, the overlaying scenarios and the complicated intrigue - there were so many disparate and confusing elements, I decided to stop paying attention and simply finished the book to tick it off my list. I'm not likely to pick up another Gibson for a long time.
Algybama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan of Gibson and this is the only thing of Sterling's I've read.Details and descriptions are good and rich (just as I expected) and the plot is generally exciting and fun. However, though the lead-up is one of the best parts of the book, the climax is terrible. Just a bland battle without any excitement. And, for the most part, the end is a big disappointment. But the odd thing is that one gets the impression that the authors wanted it like that... a big, weird joke at the end. Needless to say it's a very wacky novel. In many ways it's more about humor than any kind of seriousness. The "touching" or poetic parts of the novel (such as the main character's remembrance of his time in America) come across as heavy-handed and out of place. This is strange, as I'm accustomed to Gibson balancing emotion with humor very well.The allusions are enough to carry you through. Keats is priceless.Read it if you enjoy Gibson/Sterling/Victorian society and culture/Steampunk.
geneticblend on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Difference Engine is a poster-child of Steampunk, and Steampunk is a visually rich sub-genre. Anime and film capture, for example, the armored, steam-powered vehicles with their puffing and chugging, all-a-clacking with gears and pistons a la Miyazaki Hayao (Laputa, Nausicaä), The City of the Lost Children, or Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The comic medium does a great job with the juxtaposition of Victorian finery and industrial dystopia as well (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a great example). It's a visually rich subgenre, and The Difference Engine is an album of verbal photographs set in a noiresque thriller. It captures the spirit of steampunk well in all of its sooty, rusty, riveted glory.The world of The Difference Engine can be thought of as a historical freethinker's wet dream. Lord Byron is prime minister, having successfully championed a meritocratic revolution that pushes science, rationalism and industry to the forefront. Charles Babbage, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Huxley are all members of the House of Lords and Ada Lovelace (the world's first programmer) is the darling of this early information revolution powered by house-sized difference engines and littered with stacks of punch cards. In some ways, The Difference Engine is a big experimental playground in which the authors could drop their favorite authors and scientists into government and see what kind of society it produced.That said, The Difference Engine is true to the '-punk' aspect. It is dystopic and gritty, in contrast with the positivist and high-mindedness (if all too Anglo- and male-centric) of most of its Victorian characters.I was a little disappointed with the MacGuffinish character of the main object of attention in the story, but all in all, it was a good read. I recommend it to any fans of William Gibson and to anyone who gets excited at the mention of Jacquard looms, Babbage engines and kinetoscopes.
xtien on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
19th century London is plagued by an environmental disaster in which London is covered in a stinking fog. Riots follow, disaster is about to happen. The main characters in this book are real characters like Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron, Charles Babbage. But the odd thing is that they are completely different characters and play different roles compared to their real lives. Karl Marx starts a commune in the Bronx, Lord Friedrich Engels supports him with money, Benjamin Disraeli is a journalist, Lord Byron is the prime minister. The Luddites have opposed the industrial revolution but they have utterly failed. The industrial revolution, based on huge mechanical computers (miles of spinning wheels and punch cards) are "progress", run by the Radical Party. In all this, paleontologist Ned Mallory discovers the brontosaur, gets it to London, and gets involved in an espionage affair. He and his brothers finally play a key rol in restoring order and restoring the Radical Party to power. Or does he? His contact, spy Laurence Oliphant, has to travel to Paris to prevent major damage to France. The French computer has been damaged by a malicious set of punch cards (read: malicious software).In the end, you have to figure how it all ends, or doesn't end, by reading memo's and letters and personal accounts from various characters. There's lots of open ends, or are there?
ehines on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A lost opportunity: much more could have been done with the quasi-historical context here.
catapogo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed it although had a bit of trouble getting into it at first. It's divided into three (I think) major stories that tie together at the end. I think the first one didn't catch my interest very well, but it's fairly short. Ending also seemed a tad disappointing, abrupt ending with an array of letters/news bites/etc. that your supposed to use to piece together a more complete ending.
wenestvedt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's a fictional (duh) account of the ceation of an early computer, only with mechanical logic gates instead of the transistors used in current computers. The reader with a background including logic and, say, Jaquard Looms will enjoy this more than one forced to, as it were, read the manual after the roller-coaster leaves the station.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hmmmmm..........u r so talented and u have me on the edge of my seat. What happens next. Jade