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The Difference Engine Paperback – July 26, 2011
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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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
In a surprising departure from the traditional view of cyberpunk's bleak future, Gibson ( Mona Lisa Overdrive ) and Sterling ( Islands in the Net ) render with elan and colorful detail a scientifically advanced London, circa 1855, where computers ("Engines") have been developed. Fierce summer heat and pollution have driven out the ruling class, and ensuing anarchy allows the subversive, technology-hating Luddites to surface and battle the intellectual elite. Much of the problem centers on a set of perforated cards, once in the possession of an executed Luddite leader's daughter, later in the hands of "Queen of Engines" Ada Byron (daughter of prime minister Lord Byron), finally given to Edward Mallory, a scientist. Mallory, who knows the cards are a gambling device that can be read with a specialized Engine, is soon threatened and libeled by the Luddites, and he and his associates confront the scoundrels in a violent showdown. A sometimes listless pace and limp conclusions that defy the plot's complexity flaw an otherwise visionary, handsomely written, unsentimental tale that convincingly revises the 19th-century Western world. 75,000 first printing; $75,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
The ending wasn't what I expected either (not in the COOL! way)
This may be the definitive piece of Steampunk fiction. I recommend it for anyone interested about the genre.
That convention is most relevent in the "alternate history" sub-genre. As the "hardest" of the first-wave cyberpunks, an SF fan has to expect that Gibson and Sterling would honor that core convention. So the greatest mystery of this book, for most of its length, is to figure out what the devil that one change _is_.
Since I believe I've done that -- and it's by no means obvious -- I won't spoil the fun. But I will say that it looks like much better SF once you do figure that out.
The book has many flaws, most traceable to the dual-authorship. The writing is uneven -- neither Sterling nor Gibson are chameleons, and they don't do much here to approach a common style. Characterization is uneven because, though it's a strong suit for both writers, they handle it quite differently, and seem to have different visions of the characters.
But even at its worst, this is a good novel; and it's one of the most finely realized and plausible alternative histories I've ever read.