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The Difference Engine (S.F. MASTERWORKS) Paperback – 13 Jan 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; paperback / softback edition (13 Jan. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0575099402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575099401
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 53,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

'A visionary steam-powered heavy metal fantasy. Gibson and Sterling create a high-Victorian virtual reality of extraordinary richness and detail' Ridley Scott, creator of ALIEN

About the Author

Bruce Sterling (1954- ) burst onto the SF scene with the birth of Cyberpunk and co-authored THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE with his colleague William Gibson. His biggest UK success was with THE HACKER CRACKDOWN. He lives with his wife and daughters in Austin, Texas.

William Gibson (1948- ) was born in America but moved to Canada in 1968 after being rejected by his draft-board. He is the multiple-award-winning author of Neuromancer, Count Zero, The Mona Lisa Overdrive, Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow's Parties and Spook Country.


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Composite image, optically encoded by escort-craft of the trans-Channel airship Lord Brunel: aerial view of suburban Cherbourg, 14 October 1905. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 Feb. 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
After reading the opinions of other readers here, I wondered if we had all read the same book. I suspect that those who find this book a disappointment came to it hoping to read a work more in line with previous books by either of these two well-respected science fiction authors. Finding something different, they left unsatisfied. If one approaches this book with an open mind, I think they will be pleasantly suprised. The two authors paint a convincing, detailed alternative history that weaves several narratives into a cohesive whole that falters only slightly at the end. The characters are for the most part three-dimensional, and fit well within the world Gibson and Sterling have created. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, and the benifits and costs of an England dominated by steam-driven computers are well represented. The poltical climate and "world of the difference engine" are both plausible and entertaining. The only place in which the authors falter is in their attempt to move the narrative beyond entertainment into the philosophical and metaphysical. Then ending is somewhat reminiscent of the finale of Nueromancer, and is written in the sterotypical clipped Gibson style, which contrasts sharply with the rest of the novel. Had Gibson and Sterling left their work in the more mundane realm of (alternative) historical adventure, they would have had an unqualified success. Depsite that shortcoming, I recommend this book wholeheartedly. It is unlike any other work by these two authors, and thus you should expect something different. It is a rousing adventure set in a plausible alternative world, similar in tone and style to Frost's excellent "List of 7," only slightly hindered by some metaphysical trappings.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Crookedmouth on 7 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well written, with a sense of humour (and a surprisingly explicit sex-scene in the middle portion) the Difference Engine is set in an alternate "steampunk" universe (indeed it is credited with launching the genre) where the Victorian Aristocracy have been overthrown and the British Empire is ruled by savants, engineers and scientists. The story mainly follows the adventures of palaeonotologist Edward Mallory who has come into the possession (from Lady Ada Byron) of a mysterious box that is sought by anarchists as the basis for the overthrow of the Radical Meritocracy. However, his central part in the story is taken over by the shadowy Laurence Olifant towards the end of the book.

"The Difference Engine" makes much use of a number of story telling devices - there's a McGuffin (the box), a Chekov's Gun, a Femme-Fatale and a Man-of Action, and a twist at the end. The plot, however, is tenuous to say the least and is reliant on the McGuffin for driving the story along (well, that's what McGuffin's are for, isn't it?). I very nearly gave up on it early on because it seemed to me to be going nowhere. My persistence paid off, however, and it developed (slowly, I admit) to an unputdownable page turner.

It is certainly an enjoyable read but I must admit to having felt a little let down by the very end. What had I learned? Where had the story taken me? Where was the narrative linking the start, middle and end of the story? It is the lack of a strong plot that lets the book down and the strength of the story telling that lifts it.

I certainly recommend it but at the same time suggest that you may need to work hard to maintain interest in the early scenes. (Much) better than average but not exactly top notch...
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mark Shackelford TOP 500 REVIEWER on 20 Feb. 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a story of how things might have been if the brilliant Charles Babbage had succeeded in creating his Computer (the Difference Engine) - all brass cogs, gears and thundering steam.

William Gibson (whose other books such as the stunning Neuromancer et al. are quite different) and Bruce Sterling have expanded this idea and peopled a reinvented Victorian Age with real names in new situations.

As someone who often thinks he would have liked to have been a Victorian (if only they had had more technology) this book is just perfect. I have now read it three times - and still thought it was excellent on the third time round.

Do not expect anything similar to Gibson's other sci-fi or else you will be disappointed. If, on the other hand you really enjoyed Neal Stephenson's (similar-ish) "Diamond Age" - then "The Difference Engine" is the book for you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 Mar. 1999
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found the first part of it especially hard to leave. It is set in the high Victorian period, and manages to convey great atmosphere- you and almost smell the coalfire-fed smog.
Basically, computers have arrived a century early, with the perfection of Babbage's mechanical calculating machine, operated with programmable punch-cards. The action mainly revolves around a set of these punch-cards, which carry a special program, although you'll have to wait until the end of the book to find out what.
I did feel hovever that the plot got a little lost towards the end, and there were also some rather unnecessarily prolonged violent, action-based passages, but this doesn't really detreact from what is an interesting thought-experiment on what could possibly have occured, if the Engine had succeeded.
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