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The Difference Engine | [William Gibson, Bruce Sterling]

The Difference Engine

The Difference Engine is an alternate history novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It is a prime example of the steampunk sub-genre; It posits a Victorian Britain in which great technological and social change has occurred after entrepreneurial inventor Charles Babbage succeeded in his ambition to build a mechanical computer called Engines. The fierce summer heat and pollution have driven the ruling class out of London and the resulting anarchy allows technology-hating Luddites to challenge the intellectual elite.
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Publisher's Summary

The Difference Engine is an alternate history novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It is a prime example of the steampunk sub-genre; It posits a Victorian Britain in which great technological and social change has occurred after entrepreneurial inventor Charles Babbage succeeded in his ambition to build a mechanical computer called Engines.

The fierce summer heat and pollution have driven the ruling class out of London and the resulting anarchy allows technology-hating Luddites to challenge the intellectual elite.

A set of perforated punch cards come into the hands of the daughter of an exicuted Luddite leader who sets out to keep them safe and discover what secrets they contain.

©1991 William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (P)2010 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.4 (219 )
5 star
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3.2 (193 )
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Story
4.0 (190 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Delano Philadelphia, PA, United States 04-22-13
    Delano Philadelphia, PA, United States 04-22-13 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    157
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    "Starts strong, falls off"

    First of all, Simon Vance does an amazing job with this book. All kinds of British accents, and he nails each of them. The perfect ideal of expressiveness without melodrama from start to finish. So this is what a professional sounds like. If only I could get serious nonfiction books narrated with this level of talent.

    The novel: written by two people, and it shows. It gives the impression that they worked together for a while, agreed to work separately on the rest, and then both mailed in half-baked work when they ran out of time. The first 1/3 is absolutely gripping and fascinating. The next 1/3 is a mediocre action story climaxing with a gunfight in a burning warehouse (the ultimate action cliche). The last 1/3 is told as a series of disjointed fragments revealing large chunks of leftover plot, as though the writer didn't have time to weave them together to give pacing and complexity.

    I felt the book was worth my time, but ended up mourning the much better novel that could have been if the high standard of the first section had been kept up.

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donna Canada 03-28-13
    Donna Canada 03-28-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Simon Vance is excellent as always, Gibson not so"

    The performance of this story is first rate, the story however I think tries too hard to include every notable figure of the era and in doing so loses something in pacing and structure.

    Still a story worth listening too, just not first rate.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Liam 12-30-14
    Liam 12-30-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
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    "steampunk at it's best!"

    A fantastic blend of two of contemporary literature's best. Seamlessly transporting the reader to a Victorian London at once strange and familiar. The Difference Engine evokes a visceral connection to a period of pivotal social and technological innovation.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    wendy NJ 10-03-11
    wendy NJ 10-03-11 Member Since 2010

    Tell us about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great Story!"

    William Gibson & Bruce Sterling are both fantastic authors & together they wrote a really great story!

    Excellent listen - highly recommended.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gerald Andrew Taylor Walnut Creek, California United States 05-29-15
    Gerald Andrew Taylor Walnut Creek, California United States 05-29-15 Member Since 2007
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    37
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    "Almost unlistenable"

    The narrator was actually quite good, and the story had an interesting premise, but the dialogue was so heavy-handed with 19th century jargon that it completely detracted from the story. It got to the point that it was completely unenjoyable.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cliff 03-17-15
    Cliff 03-17-15 Member Since 2005
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    3
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    "Brilliant and Captivating"
    If you could sum up The Difference Engine in three words, what would they be?

    First Class Alternative History


    What did you like best about this story?

    The rich detail and reimagining of Victorian England if Babbage's difference engine had been fully funded by Parliament. Very clever historically - something quite difficult to make believable but Gibson and Sterling achieved it. Plot was quite engaging - unable to put it down. Lot's of action and plot twists that keep one engaged.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The beginning of the harassment by Captain Swan - the burning acid card and then the falsified vivisection photos of the savant's rival.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Would like to read at one setting but at the book's length that's not practical


    Any additional comments?

    Braved many negative reviews before I decide to select this audible book. Find it interesting that it seems to arose such negativity in many readers. Expect it is a bit complicated and challenging from the standpoint of understanding the history well enough to grasp how artfully the authors rearrange it. Not for the slow witted I suppose.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Hand 03-05-15
    J. Hand 03-05-15
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    "I expected something different"

    Maybe I'm not versed enough in steam punk culture and missed the point here. I expected somthing more along the lines of science fiction except steam driven devices and strange machinery. There was a smidgeon of that often as a quick backdrop and at times almost an afterthought. Instead I got a tale of social upheaval, historical receation of sorts, anti-communist essay, a very involved and complex mystery all intertwined with actual historical people served in a name dropping fashion. I never really did get the points of many character backgrounds and how they fit into the larger story. They last parts seemed an attempt to tie it all together that was brilliant in some spots, clumsy in others.

    The audio was appropriately accented but at times was paced so quickly that I had to slow it down to understand it. This also required replays in many places to hear what was being said. Because there's a lot of period London/British vernacular I had to keep accessing a dictionary to know what a number of words meant. I don't mind that and it wasn't as frequent a need as William Shrier's books.

    It was still not a bad tale but I still feel somewhat cheated because I thought it was going to be something other than what it proved to be. Maybe a film presentation would have had background scenery and effects that would have conveyed the steam age better as in the great animated feature "Steam Boy", but it didn't come through at all in the story. In fact, pull the couple steam vehicles, replace the 'engines' with mathematicians, add a few other minor tweaks and this is simply another novel set in the 1800s.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Russell Ray, ND, United States 02-01-15
    Russell Ray, ND, United States 02-01-15 Member Since 2015
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    "lowest review I have ever given."

    I love the language, composition, and word play of this book. minute by minute was a wonderful word puzzle that could only be solved with a time machine. The problem is that I could not follow or understand the story. Being a somewhat feral boy,raised in the rural wields of 1980's Idaho, I may not have the intellect to understand this book.
    All in all, if you are the type of person that dates total psychotic people and then wonder what the hell went wrong with fond memories in your heart, you should get this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jason Kaechler Bruceville, Texas 04-02-14
    Jason Kaechler Bruceville, Texas 04-02-14 Member Since 2012

    TechnoPhile

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not all that good"
    Would you try another book from William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and/or Simon Vance?

    I have read (listened to) some other Gibson books, and I quite liked them. However, this one was difficult to get thru, hard to follow the storyline, and in the end the storyline seemed to be completely useless. Not gripping at all.

    The readed did do a good job, it is just the story that didnt....


    Has The Difference Engine turned you off from other books in this genre?

    Probly not


    What does Simon Vance bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Good characterization


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    A Nap


    Any additional comments?

    Don't.

    3 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jerry Hilts Portland, OR, USA 03-04-13
    Jerry Hilts Portland, OR, USA 03-04-13 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Pretty good, but not Gibson good."
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    Sure, but not before reading Gibson's other stuff.


    Did Simon Vance do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    Vance did an adequate job of establishing different voices, tones, and accents for the various characters in the story.


    Any additional comments?

    I finally got around to reading The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. I'm not sure how they spit up the writing duties, but it just didn't feel like a Gibson book to me. Perhaps it was Sterling's voice (this is the first of his books I've read), or perhaps it was that the alt-victorian setting is so different from other Gibsonian worlds like Blue Ant or The Sprawl, but world of The Difference Engine didn't feel as rich as those others. "Rich" isn't really the word I'm looking for. Perhaps "textured" or "vivid" would be better, but they don't feel quite right either.All in all, it was a pretty good story, well told. If you haven't read Gibson's other stuff though, I'd recommend starting there. I'm especially fond of the Blue Ant series: Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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