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.
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.
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.
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William Gibson & Bruce Sterling are both fantastic authors & together they wrote a really great story!
Excellent listen - highly recommended.
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.
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.
I feel that the characters, although living separate lives, were not sufficiently intertwined. It felt like each of them in turn was given short shrift by the strange separation and lack of balance in their narratives. Also, the story lacks depth, despite its wordiness. And I hate it when a story ends and a bunch of jumbled letters and afterthoughts.
I know this is on every "must read" Steampunk list, but it was boring. Simon Vance's voice was the only thing that kept me going. Meh.
Simon Vance is good.
But will never touch anything from Gibson & Sterling
The period and atmosphere are done well.
Rambling & incoherent, the story moves very very slowly. After a couple of hours, decided to cut my losses and gave it up as a wash.
First Class Alternative History
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.
The beginning of the harassment by Captain Swan - the burning acid card and then the falsified vivisection photos of the savant's rival.
Would like to read at one setting but at the book's length that's not practical
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.
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