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Difference Engine(MP3)Lib(Unabr.) [Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged] [MP3 CD]

William Gibson/Bruce Sterling
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 6 2010
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 executed Luddite leader who sets out to keep them safe and discover what secrets they contain.

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From Amazon

A collaborative novel from the premier cyberpunk authors, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Part detective story, part historical thriller, The Difference Engine takes us not forward but back, to an imagined 1885: the Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven, cybernetic engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine, and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a surprising departure from the traditional view of cyberpunk's bleak future, Gibson ( Mona Lisa Overdrive ) and Sterling ( Islands in the Net ) render with elan and colorful detail a scientifically advanced London, circa 1855, where computers ("Engines") have been developed. Fierce summer heat and pollution have driven out the ruling class, and ensuing anarchy allows the subversive, technology-hating Luddites to surface and battle the intellectual elite. Much of the problem centers on a set of perforated cards, once in the possession of an executed Luddite leader's daughter, later in the hands of "Queen of Engines" Ada Byron (daughter of prime minister Lord Byron), finally given to Edward Mallory, a scientist. Mallory, who knows the cards are a gambling device that can be read with a specialized Engine, is soon threatened and libeled by the Luddites, and he and his associates confront the scoundrels in a violent showdown. A sometimes listless pace and limp conclusions that defy the plot's complexity flaw an otherwise visionary, handsomely written, unsentimental tale that convincingly revises the 19th-century Western world. 75,000 first printing; $75,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meat, not gruel June 20 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I'm puzzled by the complaint (made by several reviewers below) that the plot threads are never tied up (yes they are, in the final third of the novel) and that we never find out what the mysterious punch cards do (we most certainly do -- see pp. 387, 421, and 429, where we're told EXACTLY what their function is).
This is admittedly a novel that has to be read carefully; one can't just slurp it down like jello without doing any work. It's a serious novel, thank goodness -- not "light entertainment."
I'm also puzzled that nobody seems to have noticed what a highly *political* novel this is. This book is much more about political and cultural ideology than it is about alternative-history technology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex alternate history March 2 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The Difference Engine reflects the creative synergy of two great cyberpunk pioneers, Gibson and Sterling. It is a difficult and complex novel, based on the premise that Charles Babbage's eponymous mechanical computer is actually developed for practical use using steam power in the Victorian Age, ushering in the Information Revolution a century early. The authors manage to convincingly evoke a Victorian otherworld that is both hauntingly familiar and yet dramatically different from our own past. England is ruled by technocrats and scientists (known as savants) who battle Luddite terrorists; the United States are far from united, rent between the Republic of Texas, the Confederate South, and the Marxist Manhattan Commune. Gibson and Sterling utilize this fascinating background to great advantage, using a colorful cast of characters (including famous historic figures like Sam Houston and Lord Byron in roles a little different from those in our own history books) to explore such weighty themes as evolution and natural selection; technology, surveillance and social control; AI; and the science of chaos and complexity.
I'm sure I did not fully grasp all the implications or understand all the intricate plotlines in this rare treasure; it will definitely repay rereading. But I'm sure that thoughtful fans of Gibson and Sterling--especially those with some knowledge of 19th century England--will enjoy this book as much as I did. It may well be regarded as an SF masterpiece with time. On the other hand, readers who require straightforward, linear plotting and who find ambiguity irritating will certainly do best to skip this novel.
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3.0 out of 5 stars nice plan, but huh? March 30 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
i really like reading gibson. usually, it's kind of like running a marathon: it's harder than hell to get to the end, but ultimately rewarding. this one was both an easier read than i expect gibson to be (of course, he had help writing this one) and not as rewarding in the end.
set in victorian england, 'the difference engine' is an alternate history: what would have been changed had charles babbage's mechanical computer been a practical reality? i VERY STRONGLY reccomend that the person interested in reading this book do some research on the times and concepts before starting this book. you will get a lot more out of it if you know what's going on before you start. this is probably one of the worst failings of the book: while the background is richly detailed (there is a wealth of victorian slang, social moires, and lifestyle), the basic concept of what the hell a difference engine even is is never explained.
the story is apparently about a mysterious series of computer punch cards falling into the hands of a series of characters. the characters have only loose connections with each other, and once the story moves on to the next character, the plot threads are left dangling open for the previous one. just what exactly the punch cards do is never revealed, so the ending of the book feels rather anti-climactic.
the concepts and ideas are interesting, but basically the tale never goes anywhere. you keep reading, hoping that there is a point to be made, but the whole thing just kind of fizzles out. "steampunk" is a fun and original idea, it just doesn't completely work here.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Huh? Feb. 5 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Okay, right now I'm on a cyberpunk kick and I picked this book up at the library because the premise sounded interesting: what if the computer ("Engine" in the book lingo) had been invented in the nineteenth century? And what if the government of England had been taken over by and Industrial Radical party that essentially made the industrial revolution more so?
Well, after reading the book I still don't feel like I had any answer to those questions. In fact, I don't really feel like this book had any cohesion at all. Essentially what we have here is three novellas, each with a different central character. But other than a mysterious box of punch cards which each of them at one time or another possesses, there isn't any throughline. There are tantalising bits of plot here and there, but none of it seems to go anywhere or make any sense. And the box of cards has no impact; everyone's out to get it, but why? Who knows what it does? Why should we care?
Characters appear and disappear with infuriating randomness -- just when you think something's going to happen, Oops! that's the end of that bit and no we're somewhere else. Conspiracies are hinted at but then they just vanish or become unimportant with no explanation. I kept waiting for all the threads to come together and knock me over the head with significance, but that never happened.
Some of the alternate reality stuff was interesting, but there just wasn't enough backstory to make it relevant. All in all, the book left me with the feeling of "What the heck was that about?" If the writers knew, I wish they had seen fit to share.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars writing and structure
the writing was god in sections; however, the structure of this collaboration did not hold together well. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Lynn M Jones
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring
I am a fan of William Gibson, I read a lot of good book written by him and find that he is a very interesting author. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2005 by Claude Mally
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but distorts history
The idea of the invention of Steampowered computers in the nineteenth century is interesting but the author makes several unetanable claims of what would happen in the new... Read more
Published on May 24 2004 by Sean Mulligan
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but many missed opportunities
This isn't a bad novel, and I don't think it "drags" as some would have it--there is enough motive force behind the novel (action, plot development) to keep you there,... Read more
Published on Dec 2 2003 by Eric Hines
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Complex Reading
In contrast to most of the negative reviews, I thought the suprise ending was powerful and not entirely unexpected. Read more
Published on June 30 2003 by JFBeilman
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
This book takes a little while to get started (about 30 pages--not too long), but once it does, wow. What a world! Read more
Published on March 26 2003 by L. Hall
3.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to love it.
It was such a great premise for a book-- what if the Babbage had realized his analytical engine and successfully created computer much earlier in our history? Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2003 by frumiousb
3.0 out of 5 stars A conflict of writing styles
It had the *makings* of a great novel... two of the greatest modern SF writers, applying the tools of today to a previous century. But. But. Read more
Published on Nov. 27 2002 by a superintelligent shade of the color blue
5.0 out of 5 stars Gave me chills
I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I think I have to reveal a little to counter the bad reviews. Read more
Published on Sept. 12 2002 by Adrian Bell
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