The Difference Engine - William Gibson and Bruce Sterling - NEW Book
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 (actually his analytical engine rather than the difference engine). The novel was nominated for the British Science Fiction Award in 1990, the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1991, and both the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and the Prix Aurora Award in 1992.
The action of the story follows Sybil Gerard, a political courtesan and daughter of an executed Luddite leader (she is borrowed from Disraeli's novel Sybil); Edward "Leviathan" Mallory, a paleontologist and explorer; and Laurence Oliphant, a historical figure with a real career, as portrayed in the book, as a travel writer whose work was a cover for espionage activities "undertaken in the service of Her Majesty".] Linking all their stories is the trail of a mysterious set of reportedly very powerful computer punch cards and the individuals fighting to obtain them. As is the case with special objects in several novels by Gibson, the punch cards are to some extent a MacGuffin.
During the story, many characters come to believe that the punch cards are a gambling "modus", a programme that would theoretically allow the user to place consistently winning bets. This is in line with Ada Lovelace's penchant for gambling (in both the novel and actuality). Only in the last chapter is it revealed that the punched cards represent a program which proves two theorems which in reality would not be discovered until 1931 by Kurt Gödel. Ada Lovelace delivers a lecture on the subject in France. Defending the cards, Mallory gathers his brothers and a policeman to fight the revolutionary Captain Swing who leads a London riot during "the Stink", a major episode of pollution in which London swelters under an inversion layer (comparable to the London Smog of December 1952).
After the abortive uprising, Oliphant and the pseudonymous former Sybil Gerard meet at a cafe in Paris. Oliphant informs her that he is aware of her true identity, but will not pursue it, although he does want information that would compromise her seducer, Charles Egremont MP, now regarded as an obstacle to the strategies and political ambitions of Lords Brunel and Babbage. Sybil has longed for an opportunity for vengeance against Egremont, and the resultant political scandal destroys his parliamentary career and aspirations for a merit lordship. Oliphant also encounters a Manhattan-based group of feminist pantomime artists, uncannily similar to feminist performance artists involved in debates over US National Endowment for the Arts funding in the late eighties and early nineties in our world. After several vignettes that elaborate on the alternate historical origins of the world of The Difference Engine, Ada Lovelace delivers her lecture on Gödel's Theorem, as its counterpart is known in our world. She is chaperoned by Fraser, and castigated by Sybil Gerard, who is still unable to forgive Ada's father, the late Lord Byron, for his role in her own father's death.
At the very end of the novel, there is a dystopian depiction of an alternate 1991 from the vantage point of Ada Lovelace. Throughout the novel's latter sections, there are references to an "Eye", which appears to be a metaphor for Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon - an omnipresent surveillance technology initially proposed for prison architecture in the nineteenth century and which at the time the novel was published had become the subject of concern about encroachments on human rights and civil liberties by authoritarian western societies which have used information technology to monitor, regulate and police their populations, as Michel Foucault noted in his Discipline and Punish (1977). At the end of the novel, human beings appear to have become digitised ephemeral ciphers at the mercy of a sentient artificial intelligence, implied to be as a consequence of this world's accelerated development of information technology.
About the Author William Gibson
William Ford Gibson (born March 17, 1948) is an American-Canadian writer who has been called the "noir prophet" of the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction. Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" in his short story "Burning Chrome" and later popularized the concept in his debut novel, Neuromancer (1984). In envisaging cyberspace, Gibson created an iconography for the information age before the ubiquity of the Internet in the 1990s. He is also credited with predicting the rise of reality television and with establishing the conceptual foundations for the rapid growth of virtual environments such as video games and the Web. Having changed residence frequently with his family as a child, Gibson became a shy, ungainly teenager who often read science fiction. After spending his adolescence at a private boarding school in Arizona, Gibson dodged the draft during the Vietnam War by emigrating to Canada in 1968, where he became immersed in the counterculture and after settling in Vancouver eventually became a full-time writer. He retains dual citizenship. William Gibson's early works are bleak, noir near-future stories about the effect of cybernetics and computer networks on humans – a "combination of lowlife and high tech". The short stories were published in popular science fiction magazines. The themes, settings and characters developed in these stories culminated in his first novel, Neuromancer, which garnered critical and commercial success, virtually initiating the cyberpunk literary genre.
Although much of William Gibson's reputation has remained associated with Neuromancer, his work has continued to evolve. After expanding on Neuromancer with two more novels to complete the dystopic Sprawl trilogy, Gibson became an important author of another science fiction sub-genre—steampunk—with the 1990 alternate history novel The Difference Engine, written with Bruce Sterling. In the 1990s, he composed the Bridge trilogy of novels, which focused on sociological observations of near-future urban environments and late capitalism. His most recent novels—Pattern Recognition (2003) and Spook Country (2007)—are set in a contemporary world and have put his work onto mainstream bestseller lists for the first time. Gibson is one of the best-known North American science fiction writers, fêted by The Guardian' in 1999 as "probably the most important novelist of the past two decades". Gibson has written more than twenty short stories and nine critically acclaimed novels (one in collaboration), and has contributed articles to several major publications and collaborated extensively with performance artists, filmmakers and musicians. His thought has been cited as an influence on science fiction authors, design, academia, cyberculture, and technology.
William Gibson's early writings are generally near-future stories about the influences of cybernetics and cyberspace (computer-simulated reality) technology on the human race. His themes of hi-tech shanty towns, recorded or broadcast stimulus (later to be developed into the "sim-stim" package featured so heavily in Neuromancer), and dystopic intermingling of technology and humanity, are already evident in his first published short story, "Fragments of a Hologram Rose" (1977). The latter thematic obsession was described by his friend and fellow author, Bruce Sterling, in the introduction of William Gibson's short story collection Burning Chrome, as "Gibson's classic one-two combination of lowlife and high tech."
In the early 1980s, William Gibson's stories appeared in Omni and Universe 11, wherein his fiction developed a bleak, film noir feel. He consciously distanced himself as far as possible from the mainstream of science fiction (towards which he felt "an aesthetic revulsion", expressed in "The Gernsback Continuum"), to the extent that his highest goal was to become "a minor cult figure, a sort of lesser Ballard." When Sterling started to distribute the stories, he found that "people were just genuinely baffled... I mean they literally could not parse the guy's paragraphs... the imaginative tropes he was inventing were just beyond peoples' grasp." While Larry McCaffery has commented that these early short stories displayed flashes of Gibson's ability, science fiction critic Darko Suvin has identified them as "undoubtedly [cyberpunk's] best works", constituting the "furthest horizon" of the genre. The themes which Gibson developed in the stories, the Sprawl setting of "Burning Chrome" and the character of Molly Millions from "Johnny Mnemonic" ultimately culminated in his first novel, Neuromancer.
The Difference Engine - William Gibson and Bruce Sterling - NEW Book
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