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The Difference Engine (Gollancz S.F.) by…

The Difference Engine (Gollancz S.F.) (original 1990; edition 1996)

by William Gibson

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4,626691,030 (3.3)155
Title:The Difference Engine (Gollancz S.F.)
Authors:William Gibson
Info:Gollancz (1996), Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Difference Engine by William Gibson (1990)

  1. 00
    The Light Ages by Ian R. MacLeod (CaptainPea)
  2. 03
    Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (Cecilturtle)
    Cecilturtle: also set in late XIXth century with challenged scientific views.

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Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
I'm not sure how writers collaborate. More specifically, how Gibson and Sterling collaborate. Do they take turns writing chapters? If they do, I'll bet I can pick out which ones Gibson wrote; archaic jargon can add to a story...but only so far. Gibson's nonsense slang-usage in Neuormancer makes me think he likes to confuse readers. Intelligent readers want to know the meaning of the words used. Spending time inferring from the context or actually looking up the slang takes away from story enjoyment. Bizarre intercessions also take away from the enjoyment.

I've read comments that The Difference Engine is better on the second read. Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough to merit that re-read. I'm looking for good examples of written steampunk, as to date, it remains a visual attraction only for me. This book was on many lists as exemplary of the genre. If it is, the the genre needs a lot of help. ( )
  Razinha | May 23, 2017 |
Gibson & Sterling's The Difference Engine was about as I remembered it. Not the details: these I almost always forget, and here the authors truly shone in their inventiveness and world-making. Factual descriptions of Babbage's Analytical Engine (design, operation, sheer massive presence), geopolitical trends and alternative history, and yes, compulsive delight in sharing fashion and other period detail -- these were glorious fun and more rewarding than I allowed myself to expect. Overall, though, it was a solid but not spectacular book. Now there are apparently reams of steampunk stories; when first I read it, I don't think I knew of any other, and that was enough to recommend it.

The Difference Engine is a classic MacGuffin: crucial to the story, but mostly offstage and the plot's not so much about the Engine itself as about all the people running around it. A mysterious deck of punchcards provides the excuse to tour various parts of London, visit various members of different classes involved in cultural and political conflict. This set of punchcards amounts to a virus, perhaps the first of the age: no one central to the story is much aware of that, however, or even the possibility of it.


The final chapter an epistolary appendix: reports, articles, diary entries mostly focused on backstory not the plot. One revelation is that the punchcards sabotaged the Napolean not mechanically (jamming the gears) but algorithmically, preventing the engine from completing the operation, with some higher functions consequently dedicated endlessly to the program. It's not clear who did it. Was the Napolean targeted specifically, or were the cards intended for any engine? Was the virus a sincere effort to answer a legitimate question only the program failed, or was the virus created deliberately?


Some of my favourite parts mirror a subtheme of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, in which familiar scientific discoveries are skewered good-naturedly. Gibson & Sterling have a character ridicule the concept of a map usefully identifying the source of a cholera outbreak; Disraeli is imagined not as PM but a journalist; Byron is PM and linked to radical politics. The origins of moving pictures are memorably joined with PowerPoint slides, and the innovation is rued as much in that world as in ours. ( )
2 vote elenchus | May 22, 2017 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (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)

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