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The Difference Engine by William Gibson

The Difference Engine (original 1990; edition 1996)

by William Gibson

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4,612701,036 (3.3)154
Title:The Difference Engine
Authors:William Gibson
Info:Gollancz (1996), Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:science-fiction, alternate-history, READ

Work details

The Difference Engine by William Gibson (1990)

Recently added byLitaVore, Lynxlady, private library, Aneris, unixploria, BTN, metacognate, thomas_misa
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English (64)  French (1)  Romanian (1)  All (66)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
I have absolutely no idea how to rate this book. Parts of it are fast-paced and great. And parts are really slow and some are plain boring. Since I am not quite sure and I want to be fair, I'll leave it somewhere in the middle. I did kind of like it, after all.
The book is divided into five parts (iterations) and it takes place in a very dark XIX century London. Everything that happens to the characters in this story somehow ends up connected to a wooden box full of punched Engine cards, but not the ones which are usually used (Every citizen has a number and a file on him/her).
None of the characters are memorable. Each have a part of the book which tells his of her story. Sybil Gerard is in the first 'chapter', Edward Mallory got the two next which also introduced Laurence Oliphant, who got the last one.
The description of the book says this is a part detective story, part historical thriller. It is, but it is so much more, which is precisely the thing which drowned the story.
( )
  Aneris | Apr 22, 2017 |
It feels as this book is the victim of collaboration. Some parts were interesting and well written while others were quite dull. The characters were also studies in contradiction never behaving in a manner I found consistent from one scene to the next. the more I read the less I cared for the story, the people in it or the book itself. ( )
  gaveedra | Jan 8, 2016 |
I hated this book. I had read Bruce Sterling previously in a college class and was not impressed. This book really felt like you could tell the difference between the authors in sections.

I distinctly remember one of the characters in the middle of the book doing things and it was like "okay, he's going to just go off and have sex now for no reason at all, and we'll have a discussion on condoms in this era, blah blah" Lot of meandering by the characters and plot from what I remember.

( )
  Schlyne | Nov 12, 2015 |
I feel obligated to like The Difference Engine a whole lot less than I did. People really dislike it, and the usual round of complaints makes a long, valid list. It's a dense 450 pages--most of it spends time on world-building chit-chat and important ideas rather than a coherent plot.

[N.B. This review includes images, and was formatted for my site, dendrobibliography -- located here.]

While the reader questions if the story's going anywhere, the world itself is fascinating, so complete in its details and sense of accuracy that it's darn hard to leave the polluted, industrial-analytical world. Difference Engine is cut into 3 chunks following the lives of Gerard, Mallory, and Oliphant on the trail of Gibson's usual macguffin. (Speaking of: The macguffin, a collection of programming punch-cards, has its explanation and importance buried so deeply that many readers never understand why they're important.) All 3 heroes only spend a fraction of their pages worrying about punch cards and social turmoil--mostly we follow paleontologist Edward Mallory in his day-to-day business as he bumbles into characters and conspiracies that are vaguely associated with the plot.

It's easy to get lost amid all the academic dialogue and miss the plot entirely. Much of the setting is left unexplained, and it benefits the reader to come prepared on popular 19th-century English savantry (history, programming, paleontology, geology, geography, etc.).

The greatest joys of Gibson & Sterling's novel often came from these 'in-the-know' moments, where the extent of the authors' research on so many subjects (and transference of that data into some quality sci-fi!) really boggles the mind; the lowest hiccups are when these same moments are too abstruse and unfamiliar, leaving the reader lost for 30 or more pages. The final 30-50 pages or so are the most abstruse among them for many, with important charges and plot twists regarding those sought-after punch cards hidden under--what? what was that? I didn't understand a word.

My background is in the sexy sciences of the 19th century, so I was right at home with Mallory & Co.'s dialogue on Victorian geography, geology, and paleontology. The academic climate is painted very accurately--petty bickering and all. I loved these sections. I loved the too-long discussions of uniformitarianism v. catastrophism; dinosaurian physiology; medical advancement re: cholera mapping; phrenology and eugenics leading a supposedly 'rational' scientific world; etc.

The Difference Engine's all atmosphere--a novel of intense, interesting ideas above all else--and the sense of quest structure is hit hard. Know that before stepping in; if a lovingly-crafted world of 19th-century intellectualism with a coating of sci-fi and Gibson's political intrigue sound like your thing, this is definitely worth checking out. ( )
5 vote alaskayo | Oct 18, 2015 |
I kept picking this book up and putting it down for 3 months. I enjoyed the setting and many elements of the stories, but the aggregate failed to hold my interest.

This book consists of three occasionally intertwining plots, of which I very much enjoyed one. The authors' descriptions and dialogue often fell flat. The world of The Difference Engine seemed drab and mundane to me, which I did not like. I think I would enjoy the story more as a film or TV show, with actors to make me care about the characters, dressed in elaborate costumes and surrounded by detailed sets. ( )
  wishanem | Jan 27, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
In de vorige eeuw werd door Charles Babbage een mechanische computer ontworpen, die echter bij gebrek aan technologische kennis en de juiste materialen niet gebouwd kon worden. Deze roman speelt zich af in een Engeland waar dat wel kon, met als gevolg dat al rond 1850 de maatschappij diepgaand veranderd is door computertechnologie. Ook andere zaken zijn in die wereld anders dan de onze: zo is de dichter Byron premier van Engeland geworden en de Verenigde Staten zijn nooit verenigd. De plot betreft een politieke intrige, draaiend om een stel computerponskaarten die een blauwdruk vormen voor een nieuwe generatie computers: niet langer mechanisch maar elektrisch. De auteurs zijn coryfeeën van de 'cyberpunk': science fiction die gaat over de toekomstige ontwikkelingen van de informatica. Hier hebben ze een roman geschreven zoals een 19e-eeuws auteur van cyberpunk die had kunnen schrijven. In dit opzicht is het een tour-de-force. Bovendien is het spannend en goed geschreven. Enige kennis van het 19e-eeuwse Engeland maakt de lezing van het boek nog aardiger, want het bevat talloze toespelingen op kunst en politiek uit de 19e eeuw.
added by karnoefel | editNBD / Biblion

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Gibsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sterling, Brucemain authorall editionsconfirmed
Miller, IanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Randazzo, TonyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 055329461X, Mass Market Paperback)

A collaborative novel from the premier cyberpunk authors, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Part detective story, part historical thriller, The Difference Engine takes us not forward but back, to an imagined 1885: the Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven, cybernetic engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine, and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:19 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

"1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with history--and the future."--The Difference Engine From the Paperback edition.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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