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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gibson and Sterling produce an excellent book.
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...
Published on 19 Feb 1999

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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Engine That's Less Than the Sum of Its Parts
The Difference Engine is a seminal work of steampunk by the two writers who did most to create cyberpunk as a genre and an aesthetic. In an alternate history, Babbage succeeded in perfecting his mechanical computer and the resulting technological revolution has supercharged the British Empire. The changes that wracked the C19th century are even more extreme in this...
Published on 1 April 2010 by Nicholas Lees


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6 of 6 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
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 "mark shackelford" (Worthing, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Difference Engine (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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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
This review is from: The Difference Engine (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Paperback)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Steampunk Genesis,, 7 Jun 2010
By 
Crookedmouth ":-/" (As seen on iPlayer) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Difference Engine (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overall, an intriguing, unusual novel, 19 Mar 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Difference Engine (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes the details are the story., 9 Jun 1998
By A Customer
Like most people, apon completing the book I thought "How can you finish the book with the plot unresolved?". Apon reflection I have decided that the "plot" was just a mechanism for this sublime tour of alternate England. Powerful images dominate this book. The detail put into the characters and their surrounds had me unable to put the book down. After a couple of days I found that even my dreams were being influenced by the images contrived in the novel. I also found some parrallels with modern life. Is it possible that the society in this book was unable to cope with the technology that it had created?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing, 11 Nov 1997
By A Customer
In what is possibly the finest work of science fiction written in the last decade. By the fictional displacement of information technologies, Sterling and Gibson transcend the limitations of their individual works and instead create a document of stunning insight into the interaction between human culture and technology's own "engine" of change. This is writing at the cutting edge of the 20th century's only significant literature - science fiction.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb!, 27 Jun 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Difference Engine (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Paperback)
This book is the best `alternative history' novel, and one of the best SF novels I have read so far. The authors did their homework before writing this book; the atmosphere, the historical details and the psychology of the 19th-century characters are utterly credible, as is the science. I had no problem with the numerous digressions from the main storyline; they thoroughly immerse you into the culture of the time - or the alternative culture that might have been.
I'm a great fan of Baxter, who also has stories in which some discoveries or inventions are made "too early", but those lack the feeling of authenticity The Difference Engine manages to generate. There should be more books like this.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Engine That's Less Than the Sum of Its Parts, 1 April 2010
By 
Nicholas Lees (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Difference Engine (Paperback)
The Difference Engine is a seminal work of steampunk by the two writers who did most to create cyberpunk as a genre and an aesthetic. In an alternate history, Babbage succeeded in perfecting his mechanical computer and the resulting technological revolution has supercharged the British Empire. The changes that wracked the C19th century are even more extreme in this timeline, with Lord Byron and his Radicals having eliminated the landed aristocracy, the 13 colonies in America subject to brutal divide and rule, and British naval power catalysed by analytic-artillery. Nonetheless, disorder lurks beneath the surface, and shadowy figures plot revolution...

With such a set-up, what could possibly go wrong? Indeed, much doesn't. There are delightfully grimy depictions of London life, riveting action scenes, an extraordinary number of clever allusions to political, social and scientific history (of which I probably missed the vast majority), and some great set-piece scenes, such as the coal powered 'car' race. Unfortunately, the plot as a whole is a mess. Events orbit around a set of punch-card for an analytical engine, a classic MacGuffin if ever there was one. But these threads never resolve in anything like a satisfactory way. This is something that most Gibson novels threaten to do, but he is normally able to bring everything together by the end. The authors attempt to justify the arbitrariness of the plot through frequent allusions to chaos theory, non-linear and seemingly random relations between events. Unfortunately, this is not only unsatisfactory as a plot device, it very much dates the book in the 1990s, as do the allusions to Michel Foucault and his idea of the panopticon.

I did enjoy most parts of the book on their own terms, but I came away feeling disappointed. Perhaps the authors should have abandoned the idea of having a single narrative and instead written the book as a series of interconnected vignettes. In any case, this is a fantastically creative work of imagination and world building, but is somewhat disappointing as a work of fiction.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There's something more here., 23 Mar 1999
By A Customer
This is a very interesting book, not so much for the alternate history, but the larger question of what has Lady Ada done.
I must admit that I didn't come upon the answer myself, but the novel did stimulate much thought and discussion, and finally, illumination.
I'd recommend this novel, but only if you'll allow the authors to tell the story. Much like Gene Wolfe, if you insist on interpreting this story yourself you'll miss it.
And here's the clue: the Difference Engine is the main character.
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The Difference Engine (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
The Difference Engine (GOLLANCZ S.F.) by Bruce Sterling (Paperback - 8 May 2003)
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