This picture of part of the difference engine's printer linked to from brianjmatis' Flickr photostream, he owns the picture; made available under a creative commons license, some rights reserved.
I've had an on/off love of Bruce Sterling's fiction. I love all his non-fiction and I love hearing his talks. I find him to be a huge intellectual inspiration, and I also find his emotional engagement with design to be moving and genuine. I'm predisposed to appreciate the unique quirks of his style, which I think probably makes up for a lot.
That said, I got completely lost in a bad way inside The Difference Engine. I still have no idea what actually happened in that book.
This novel is the ancestor of the Steampunk aesthetic, but as far as I can tell sits back there at the bottom of it all, forgotten and unloved. Victorian flavored technopunk art has spread out omnivorously through a garden of influences, these days taking a much more absurdist, fantastical stance than Sterling and Gibson's solidly engineered extrapolation. Steampunk aestheticians are more likely to point to Jules Verne or HG Wells as influences, and engage in vampire hunting and ectoplasmic misadventures.
But the subgenre was founded on cryptography and pressure driven gears.
So a couple of months ago in a discussion I was talking up the virtues of Sterling's book The Caryatids and managed through sheer force of my mighty rhetoric to drive Allana to the library, an expedition from which she returned disappointed. In the conversation that followed about aspects of Bruce Sterling's fiction that do or don't work for us, we ended up sort of challenging each other to a public re-read of what I think of as his most unreadable novel. This is the result.
We'll get going on the reading in a couple of days, and conduct an ongoing dialog/argument here as we go. We'll try throwing in some background, history, perspective based on the time it was written (1990), and how it reads in a contemporary context.
I hope to finally figure out what actually occurs in it, and maybe even remember a character or two this time!
(Spoken with affection - as I love most of the work of both Sterling and Gibson. This book remains their problem child. I'm willing to give it the chance of proving itself a misunderstood prodigy after a second, careful read.)
So - over to you, Allana; say hello to the people, and tell us what you're up to here!
Written by Bill on Sunday, March 28, 2010