25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Gave me chills,
This review is from: The Difference Engine (Spectra special editions) (Mass Market Paperback)I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I think I have to reveal a little to counter the bad reviews. I hate to think that people who might enjoy this book as much as I did will miss out on it because of what they've read here. If you don't like SF books that aren't tightly character and plot-driven, this one isn't for you. But the book does have a plot, and I think those who say that it's muddled, or ends in mid-story just didn't get it. This book is about the genesis of the first AI in an alternate history, in which the historical leaps in computer technology take place in a post-Napoleonic Britain where meritocracy and rationalism have triumphed over aristocracy.
The authors were not trying to develop this idea by focusing on plot and character and indeed the AI itself is largely absent. The focus is instead on the alternate society from which the AI comes. The authors introduce a number of equally weighted plot elements, which are indeed low-key and inconclusive. But two of these meandering elements of the plot are, by the end, shown to be significant. One involves the invention of a computer system so complex that an unavoidable randomness is introduced into its calculation of data. The other involves the rationalist government's internal security technocrats, who, in the style of their twentieth century counterparts in actual history, base their philosophy on mass information - by trying to construct a database of the personal details of all their citizens.
Far from finishing in mid-story, the book reaches its natural conclusion when these two plot elements are brought together. That last chapter, with the "shadowy character", shows us a point in the future in which the result of their union finally comes to fruition. What happened in between the end of the story and this future point we can easily extrapolate, and is surplus to the authors' requirements. Reading that last chapter gave me chills and I thought about it for days afterwards.
The plot of this book is as devastating and brilliant as any SF book I've ever read, but the authors slip it in under the radar and hide it behind their wonderful evocation of their alternate society, which would make worthwhile reading just by itself. If you don't like stories that aren't tightly focused, don't read it. But otherwise, take my five-star review seriously and try to get hold of this one.
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Initial post: Mar 18, 2013 10:48:29 AM PDT
THANK you for your excellent analysis(!)
To the detractors: Sorry if there isn't quite enough "Alien vs. Predator" in this Sci-Fi Masterpiece, but please get off your "it drags/meanders/doesn't resolve" horses...
I read the book in '90/'91 in my 20's, didn't get half of it, but was blown away by what I did. I'm re-reading it 20-some years later, and it is equally incredible this time 'round.
Hunker down, grab a good cuppa joe (you will need every neuron), and prepare to be "slyly amazed"... ;-)
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