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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meat, not gruel
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...
Published on June 20 2004 by Roderick T. Long

versus
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. I would be interested in reading either Gibson's or Sterling's works by themselves
Published 6 months ago by Lynn M Jones


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meat, not gruel, June 20 2004
By 
Roderick T. Long (Auburn, AL USA) - See all my reviews
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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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3.0 out of 5 stars writing and structure, Jan. 9 2014
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This review is from: The Difference Engine (Paperback)
the writing was god in sections; however, the structure of this collaboration did not hold together well. I would be interested in reading either Gibson's or Sterling's works by themselves
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1.0 out of 5 stars Absolute crap!, Aug. 19 2002
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I have to agree with virtually everyone else who reviewed this book. It is horrible. The book reads like Sterling and Gibson came up with a concept, divided up the chapters and never checked in again. The early characters disappear and sort of reappear at the end. I kept reading, hoping that it would all come together at the end, but it didn't. In fact, the last section left me completely mystified.
I took this with me on a business trip to the middle east and read it on my return flight. I was hoping for an engrossing read that would make the remaining trip enjoyable. Instead, I experienced the longest flight of my life as I slogged through this mess.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Lots of blah with no payoff, Dec 31 2001
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W. Dustin Brown "verticalslicer" (San Diego, CA) - See all my reviews
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I'm not trying to make myself sound like an idiot, but this book was just too full of 19th century jargon for me to be able to comfortably read it. I seriously had to keep dictionary.com up and ready while reading. I read it cover to cover and never did feel like I got much out of it, except perhaps a rather bland story. I've never read anything else by Sterling, but I've read other Gibson works. While Gibson does always tend to use unfamiliar terms, some of which Id swear he makes up, this book takes the cake. I would read 5 boring pages of rather useless information and wonder where in the world they were going with it! It was a frustrating experience to read this book and I'm just glad I'm done with it. I'm giving it 2 stars because of all of the painful, and presumably accurate detail they conveyed throughout the book. If your really into all things 19th century or steam-punk, then Id recommend it.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not what I wanted, Sept. 6 2001
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C. Cole (Allen, Texas United States) - See all my reviews
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Well, I'll try to be fair, but it is hard. My reaction after reading the last page was "Well, I'll never get that time back". I can possibly see why some might find this book entertaining, if they were VERY familiar with 19th century history. The detail is very good, and the premise is interesting. However, I have not read many books I have been more disapointed in. It drags, meanders, teases, and finally... leaves you completely flat. IMHO don't waste your time.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too many cooks spoil the soup, Aug. 23 2001
By 
M. Knight - See all my reviews
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I'm guessing the creation of the book went something like this:
Gibson: Hey Bruce, want to write a book about steam powered computing?
Sterling: Yeah, that sounds really interesting. Let's do lots of research and make it sound very authentic.
A few months pass....
Gibson: Well, I've actually written the entire book now. How did your research go?
Sterling: That's funny, I wrote the entire book too. Why don't we throw dice. If it's an even number, we'll put one of your chapters in, if it's an odd number we'll put one of mine in.
Gibson: Sounds good.
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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
By 
Garrett J. Menning (Albuquerque, NM) - See all my reviews
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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 Not bad, but many missed opportunities, Dec 2 2003
By 
Eric Hines "--eric" (Northern Michigan) - See all my reviews
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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, BUT
The main character just isn't particularly interesting and the novel fails to flesh out its alternative history in a way that would make it truly intersting. We get a smattering of the catastrophist/gradualist controversy (derived from SJ Gould is my guess), and Victorian social attitudes and mores get depicted (but not discussed) pretty well.
However, we don't get very much on the difference engines or how the technology interacts with Victorian society or on why Byron would have made a successful prime minister in these circumstances or . . .
Well, we could go on at length as to topics the two novelists might have turned their attention to.
But at the end of the day, not a bad way to spend a few days away from more serious reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Complex Reading, June 30 2003
By 
JFBeilman "Bibliophile" (Wichita, KS United States) - See all my reviews
In contrast to most of the negative reviews, I thought the suprise ending was powerful and not entirely unexpected.Though this book is science fiction, its way of leading up to the suprise ending is similar to the stratigy used in the movie "Sixth Sense." Both start out slow,yet lead to powerfull endings which are foreshadowed with tantilizing clues.This last means that both stories should be seen more than once in order to be better understood.The Difference Engine is, thus, a complex story that requires an open mind and multiple readings in order to enjoy.
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3.0 out of 5 stars nice plan, but huh?, March 30 2003
By 
M. Browning (the D.C. 'burbs, USA) - See all my reviews
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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The Difference Engine: Deluxe Boxed Edition
The Difference Engine: Deluxe Boxed Edition by William Gibson (Hardcover - April 1 1991)
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