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The Difference Engine [Paperback]

William Gibson , Bruce Sterling
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)

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Book Description

23 July 1992
In 1855, London swelters in a poisonous heatwave. The computer age has arrived a century ahead of time and the Industrial Revolution is in full swing. However, there is a conspiracy afoot, linking Britain with the France of Louis Napoleon and the Manhattan commune of Karl Marx.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; New edition edition (23 July 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057505297X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575052970
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 10.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 925,553 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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

William Gibson began writing in 1977 and burst upon the literary world with his acclaimed first novel, NEUROMANCER, the book that launched the cyberpunk generation, and the first novel to win the holy trinity of science fiction, the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards. His most recent books include PATTERN RECOGNITION and IDORU.

Bruce Sterling 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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gibson and Sterling produce an excellent book. 19 Feb 1999
By A Customer
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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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alternate History by a Cyber-Punk master 20 Feb 2007
By Mark Shackelford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very believable alternate history 4 Sep 2000
By A Customer
I bought this at a book shop a while ago on the title alone, and I thought it was worth it.
If you know a little about Babbage and are intruiged by the potential his (uncompleted) machines had, I think you can really imagine the world this book depicts. Not just the mechanics of Babbages creations and their offspring, but the mechanics of society which has evolved along with them. Two merged Revolutions, both Industrial and Informational.
I also found the story to be interesting, but excuse me if I rave about the setting it is in most of all. :)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overall, an intriguing, unusual novel 19 Mar 1999
By A Customer
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Steampunk Genesis, 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Simply a masterpiece....
Published 29 minutes ago by Stuart Roberts
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read.
A great "political" story from an alternative Victorian age. Imagine computers that take up whole office blocks and now imagine a what if story of the same magnitude.
Published 23 days ago by MARK HALES
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Not one of his better works,but ok
Published 1 month ago by Paul
2.0 out of 5 stars Expected classic, got bobcat; would not read again
Well what a right old mish-mash this book is. Perhaps I was expecting too much, given its canonical position in speampunk and in the alternative history genre. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Steve Mansfield
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather impenetrable at times
A massive feat, no doubt, and packed full with interesting ideas and description though at times a little too dense to be a genuinely enjoyable read. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Fute
4.0 out of 5 stars The past is another country
And this alternative history set in Victorian England makes it seen even more strange and foreign. A book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Published 9 months ago by Belfast Pilgrim
5.0 out of 5 stars Ingeniously crafted and brilliantly researched
Whether the idea of "steampunk" strikes you as fascinating or rather silly, you owe it to yourself to read this magnificent book. Read more
Published 9 months ago by T. D. Welsh
5.0 out of 5 stars what a read
I've always wanted to read this book. I finally got the chance when I saw it on this site. I immediately read it when it arrived. A fantastic blast from the dystopian past. Read more
Published 10 months ago by k's
2.0 out of 5 stars Plot? What Plot?
If this is an exceptional work of Steampunk writing then I don't think I'll bother with the rest. Its confusing and frustrating, as interesting developments lead nowhere and... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Anck Su Namin
5.0 out of 5 stars A key work in the Steampunk pantheon.
I enjoyed this novel a great deal; as an avid reader of historical fiction I found the author`s research and the alternative world they've created to be both creditable and... Read more
Published on 8 Sep 2012 by J. Mcdonald
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