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The Difference Engine

by William Gibson
& Bruce Sterling

Charles Babbage, an early 19th century English mathenaut and fellow of the Royal Society, designed a calculating machine based on the computing potential of the Jacquard weaving loom (a punch-card- controlled cloth-making device invented in 1806). Babbage never succeeded in building a truly successful analytical engine, but if he had, the resulting "Lorenz-Butterfly Effect" (see Chaos) might have looked like the what-if world of Gibson & Sterling's "The Difference Engine," where the computer revolution (and all that it gives and takes) has been plucked from the late 20th century and thrown into Victorian England.

Reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's film "Brazil," "The Difference Engine" portrays the world of the 19th century as a computerized bureaucracy, where everybody must carry government-issued machine- readable serial ID cards.
Sterling's historical/technical expertise and Gibson's ability to deliver a full gestalt experience are seamlessly combined to create a Steampunk novel that will keep the levers and gears of the reader's mind clicking and whirring with interest.

(M. Frauenfelder)



The Difference Engine
William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
Bantam Books
666 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10103

Graphic: book jacket illustration

Here is the TEXT POPUP for Crystal Express:

Our lives would be greatly clarified if human discourse could be interpreted as the exfoliation of a deeper formal system. One would no longer need ponder the grave ambiguities of human speech, but could judge the validity of any sentence by reference to a fixed and finitely describable set of rules and axioms. It was the dream of Leibniz to find such a system, the Characteristica Universalis ...

And yet the execution of the so-called Modus Program demonstrated that any formal system must be both incomplete and unable to establish its own consistency. There is no finite mathematical way to express the property of 'truth.' The transfinite nature of the Byron Conjectures were the ruination of the Grand Napoleon; the Modus Program initiated a series of nested loops, which though difficult to establish, were yet more difficult to extinguish. The program ran, yet rendered its engine useless! It was indeed a painful lesson in the halting abilities of even our finest ordinateurs.

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Gareth Branwyn -

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