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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

The Difference Engine

Copyright 1990 by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Mediocre (2/5)

I first read this in November 1993 and most recently on the 29th August 2006

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling create an alternate Steampunk world in which Charles Babbage has successfully built his Difference Engine* and thereby welcomed in the world of automatic computing, albeit mechanical rather than electronically, more than a century earlier than in reality.

We follow a number of characters, both historical and fictional, as they interact around the exceptional Lady Lovelace, Ada Byron and the changing political climes of radical and revolutionary Britain.

However, I'm not much enthused with this novel. Some small sections are moving written with Gibson's characteristic deftness, but most of the novel, while entertaining and thought-provoking simply doesn't engross me.

It does occur belatedly to me that in this alternate world, the new resource of mechanical computation has not been used to expand or modernise the Empire, merely to humble and further enslave the working man in England, and of course there's a increasingly relevant lesson for our own government in this.

But I quite probably misread the back cover, so I've may got that wrong.

*Now I didn't get where I am today by knowing much about the history of computer science, but surely it's the Analytical Engine this should be about?

Loaded on the 29th March 2007.
Cover of The Difference Engine
Cover art by Ian Miller

Reviews of other works by Bruce Sterling:
Heavy Weather

Reviews of other works by William Gibson:
Count Zero
Mona Lisa Overdrive
Virtual Light
All Tomorrow's Parties
Spook Country
Zero History