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The Difference Engine

01/06/2003. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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Even odder, it wasn't set in the future but in the turn of the last century in a reality where Charles Babbage's computer is brought to fruition then instead of becoming a museum curio here.

check out website(s): www.orionbooks.co.uk

With both Gibson and Sterling involved in creating the 'cyberpunk' SF sub-genre, it was hardly surprising that they would write a book together back in 1990.

Even odder, it wasn't set in the future but in the turn of the last century in a reality where Charles Babbage's computer is brought to fruition then instead of becoming a museum curio here.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce SterlingNo doubt both authors had a jamming session and decided to go 'steampunk' which is what this book is recognised as than stay futuristic and one or the other of the pair would have to defer to the other's ideas.

The book covers the world from this Victorian perspective and how things have changed compared to our own period of time. Babbage's Analytical Engine makes one major appearance to do a calculation - a massive steam-powered brute that you couldn't fit in your house like alone on a desk.

The lead character, Edward Mallory, doesn't even appear until the second section of the book as he gets involved in the search for some missing computer program cards. The events are still primarily British but slightly more technologically advanced.

It is the attention to detail from this time period that makes it worth reading for any neo-writer to learn something from. Pollution has worsened with smog over London hanging around for days.

The only thing that seems a tad gratuitous is a near-porno sex scene that appears to have been put in to titillate the reader rather than move the story forward.

Whatever, this book is recognised as being one of the peaks of the 'steampunk' period and with its re-release allows you an opportunity to see how it was written.

GF Willmetts

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