The Difference Engine
ISBN: 055329461x Global Overview for this book
2 journalers for this copy...
One of the things that made me like Bruce Sterling immediately when first I met him, back in 1991. We shook hands and he said "We’ve got a great job ! We got to be charlatans and we’re paid for it. We make this shit up and people believe it."
The main difference between this book and Gibson's other work is that it is set in 1855 but it is an 1855 that never existed. In this alternate universe, Charles Babbage was successful in constructing his mechanical computers (called difference engines) and it completely revolutionized Britain. As a result, Britain was the most important country on earth. The American States never managed to coalesce into a unified country so the USA was restricted to the north east, Texas and California were independent republics and slavery still exists in the Confederate States. Manhattan has become a commune and there are many refugees from Manhattan and other parts of America in Britain. The House of Lords in Britain is the governing body but lordships are not inherited they are earned by people who are have achieved success in science. There are familiar names in government such as Lord Byron, who is the Prime Minister, but he came to prominence not because of his poetry but because of his knowledge of mathematics.
The book centres around a series of punch cards which travel from one hand to another with usually drastic results for the person involved. People are willing to kill for them although not many people seem to know what their purpose is. Sybil Gerrard, daughter of a notorious Luddite, is introduced to them by her lover who is the personal aide to General Sam Houston. Sybil and her lover post them to France but before they can follow them the lover is killed and Houston is badly wounded. Sybil manages to escape taking the diamonds Houston had secreted in his cane and she does go to France. Her part in the mystery is not made clear until the very end. Then Edward Mallory, recently returned from the Americas where he made the first discovery of dinosaur bones, is handed the box of cards by Ada Byron, daughter of the Prime Minister and a mathematical genius. Ada is a gambler who is in debt to some very shady characters who want to get the cards but Mallory manages to hide them. London, in the summer of 1855, is a very unpleasant place to be. The Great Stink, probably a result of the industrial work being done, is the worst kind of pollution with excessive temperatures, smog and untreated waste combined. Anyone who can flees London for the countryside and the rabble left behind smash and burn with abandon. Mallory goes up against one of the ringleaders with his brothers and a policeman because this ringleader is trying to force him to give up the cards by libelling him and his family. Mallory has cleverly hidden the cards but writes to Ada to tell her where they are. Ada, trying to get free of her debts, discloses the location to her debtors who make a daring raid to get them but are killed while leaving the scene. The cards then fall into the hands of Laurence Oliphant, a journalist/spy who has popped up before in the story. Oliphant has no idea what to do with them and he hands them off to John Keats who is a genius at computer programming.
So, what do the cards do? Ah, that's the mystery and I'll leave you to find it out. Read carefully though as some reviews I read didn't seem to catch it.
I'm going to reserve this book for future release.
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
I'm going to take this book to the meetup tonight. If no-one wants to take it home I will leave it on the OBCZ bookshelf for a new reader. This release is for the 2009 Science Fiction/Fantasy challenge.
This sounded good with the mathematics and the speculative style of it. Of course, gypsysmom could make reading a cereal box sound awesome! :)
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
Happy Canada Day!