I hope my section summaries in the future are more thematically organized than this - or, I hope one issue strikes me so fiercely that I can't help but rant about it exclusively. This first section (officially an "iteration") threw a number of small curveballs at me, so apologies that this post is a bit scattered. But I'll try to do that "literary criticism" thing I like to pretend I'm good at.
For an introductory passage, it's quite good; I'm always a fan of unexpected death. Beyond that, it has all the other requisite elements - plenty of sex and a bit of romance, a fugitive, an assassin, and some stolen riches. Rather than some exotic object with mystical properties, sought after by good and bad alike, we've got a set of missing punch cards ostensibly mailed to Paris, to be collected by hands unknown. I like the transposition here of a wish-granting lamp or diamond of eternal life with a painstakingly constructed computer program. When magic becomes science, science becomes magic (or so those steampunk LARPers would have you believe) - and this is actually a sentiment I can get behind. I love the new "aura" of fresh and baffling technology, because it comes with the knowledge that it's really human-made, thus conquerable, even if you can't shake the wonder of it all.
I have a handful of notes regarding things I want to research further. We've already held our online discussion of the chapter (to be posted soon), in which we talked about how little we're both educated in terms of Victorian class arrangements and rules. The few times the book does undertake to lecture us about these things, it does it subtly enough: "No respectable woman rode the underground unescorted," etc. But I hate the feeling that I get all my knowledge in this area from period books and movies. Mostly I want to get a big map of Whitechapel (and the settings I'm sure are coming in future iterations) and colour in different neighbourhoods, push in pins whenever a specific place is mentioned.
Then there's this Keats fellow, who is so interested in the pictorial abilities of the kinotrope. I confess to being intolerant of poetry, so I couldn't tell you if any of the topics of his conversation with our protagonist are of special indication to the real Keats. But he does, indeed, cough like someone afflicted with tuberculosis, and the mention of him once being in medical school is also verified. Essentially the only thing to conclude from this reference is that people concerned with sensuality and creating poignant fantasy (as Keats's poetry is characterized) might very well have become obsessed with fancy visualization methods - though the technicalities don't seem like his thing.
Another point I find interesting happens on the 57th page, when our doomed dandy Mick gets up in arms about his precious kinotrope program being "borrowed" in order to make copies. "But that's theft!" our heroine shrieks. Certainly a hot-button topic for Sterling and other technologically-minded cultural theorists (Cory Doctorow, for example, does a bit of historical comparison and makes a not-very-compelling case for why creative works must be shared) - but I like the specific implications here of "borrowing" things to copy them, instead of just instantaneous electronic replication. This implies a more serious affair, where copying is actually a time-consuming and laborious process that must be carried out by a specialist with professional skills and tools. To think that a famous painting must be taken out of public eye for months while a painter copies it, all for the purpose of being able to expose "it" to more audiences around the world, not only gets people up in arms about auras and authenticity but even causes controversy about unregulated public access. (Whereas, on the upside, at least it would create employment for semi-skilled artisans and technicians, as middlemen of culture.) The fact that we let computers do all the work now implies that we as a population are quite content with inferior quality (pixellated, off-colour Mona Lisas are still Mona Lisas, right?) and a mode of consumption unintended by the artist (liner notes? Who needs liner notes?). It's analogous to trusting Wikipedia for facts - it's not really "trust," but laziness and disregard. It would have been disrespectful and downright shameful in the past, but it has a new connotation now. I think what's important inb contemporary times is that no one controls the culture: no one claims a position of authority and decides who gets to see or hear what and how (and for how much). But it would take me a long time to assemble my arguments and anecdotes as to why everyone should create and no one should profit from it, so let's leave that for now.
The last thing I want to mention is the "vignetting" that people warned of; those tableaus, loosely framed in terms of photographic equipment, that come at the beginning and end of every iteration. It's not much of a stylistic emblem, at least not yet - maybe later iterations use it to greater effect (or it becomes clear that the government is spying on people using super-sophisticated technology in 1851 - what, too much?). It forms a neat bookmark, if you're paying attention, but, as it stands, it seems hardly worth mentioning.
I can't let this section roll past without a mention of the cameo of our friend Bill on page 49:
A daring fellow whisked past her, taking full advantage of the gritty new surface. Nearly recumbent within the creaking frame of a four-wheel velocipede, his shoes were strapped to whirling cranks and his breath puffed explosively into the cold. He was bare-headed and goggled, in a thick striped jersey, a long knit scarf flapping out behind him as he sped away. Sybil supposed him an inventor.I think it could fit, don't you?