Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Twenty years late -- The Difference Engine

Twenty years ago, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling published The Difference Engine, an alternate world novel in which actual plans for a large, mechanical computer were actually realized, so that the steam-driven actual Industrial Revolution was hyperpowered by a cybernetic component.  This book was one of the most important influences behind the steampunk "fad," if something so long-lived can be called a mere fad.

Earlier this year I mentioned to some friends that I had not only never read the book, but never even seen a copy.  Soon after that, they gave me one.

I enjoyed the book, when I finally made time to read it, but I could see why several people had told me over the years that it was not a very successful novel (but perhaps it wasn't really meant to be a novel?).  It is certainly no Islands in the Web (a Sterling novel that was one of the best books I read in the 1980s).  But no historian who was raised on science fiction could not like a portrait of Britain where Lord Byron is PM and head of the Radical Industrial Party.

Twenty years late, hats off!

Image:  A difference engine built in the 21st century, at last.

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