The Queen of Engines - The Second Iteration

zach with kinetic steam works' case traction engine hortense - burning man 2007
Photo © Tristan Savatier - - Used by Permission.

Ok, Second Iteration, much shorter than the first, but also possibly denser. Revelations of plot points in this post below may despoil you...

First off - I'm still not sure about these "Iterations" actually iterating anything. I don't see this brief chapter as a re-instantiation of the first chapter. If I were to try to make that notion work, I'd see the pattern as this:

1) Focal character is drawn by secondary character into a position of serious risk (Sybil joins Mick in his scheme to aid Sam Houston's ambition, Edward Mallory joins Michael Godwin's gamble on the speed of his steam-powered racer).

2) As a result of this risk-taking, the focal character has an encounter with the mysterious Engine Cards.

3) Blood is drawn.

4) Focal characters end up both victorious in their initial gamble (Sybil escapes her old life and obtains a new identity on a new continent, Edward Mallory's wager pays big, and he becomes an instantly wealthy man), and at the same time implicated in dangerous political affairs beyond their full comprehension.

That's as much of an iteration here that I can figure at this point.

Royal Cornwall Show
This picture of a steam engine linked to from Ennor's Flickr photostream; made available under a creative commons license, some rights reserved.

The photographic vignetting of this Iteration isn't as effective as it was in the first. We start with a picture of Mallory entering the Derby and end with a formal family portrait of the Ladies Byron and Somerville. No immediate context is suggested for these photos, where in the first Iteration it seemed to me the photos were surveillance images caught by agents or devices with specific implications. Where in the First Iteration these vignettes intrigued, in the second they just seem like a flat narrative framing device. We'll see how they play out going forward.

Allana gave a good overview of the characters we meet this time, so I won't go into that much myself, other than to mention that we do indeed meet Ada Byron, and she does seem to be either chemically influenced or deranged. In the photo vignette at the end of the Iteration she is said to be 40, which is how old she would have been in 1855 had she lived to that year. In unusual circumstances (maybe not so unusual for her, as she is here depicted) she hands off the case of mysterious Engine Cards to Edward Mallory and disappears. There is definitely more to write about the Lady Byron, but we'll do that later. What's interesting me right now is those cards.

Steam Engine on St. James's Street
This picture of a Steam Engine linked to from Dominic's pics' Flickr photostream; made available under a creative commons license, some rights reserved.

I'm trying to figure out the sequence of events surrounding the cards. I think there are two copies now, unless I'm misconstruing something.

We know this episode comes chronologically after the first, as the unpleasant Professor Rudwick is alive in the first episode and dead in the second. We are told in the First Episode that Mick somehow got temporary possession of the original set of cards. He took them to Manchester, which seems like it must be the Victorian English version of Palo Alto. He gets expert clackers in Manchester to use state-of-the-art compression algorithms to condense the data on the card set, and has a compressed copy of the whole set made on Napoleon gauge cellulose. We can assume he returned the originals to whoever he got hold of them from. Perhaps Collins the odds-maker, who Mick denies having met, and who I suspect, as Allana does below, is the same knife wielding tout that Edward Mallory pummels in the Second Iteration.

Therefore, the box of cards that Mallory comes into possession of must be the originals on English Gauge card-stock, digitally uncompressed. The box that Mick had Sybil mail to Paris contained a digitally compressed copy on French Gauge cards. There are, at this time, two versions of the mystery at large.

I also like the implication of separate gauges of cards. I'm guessing the Napoleon gauge is metric, based on centimeters, and probably developed by Vaucanson. The English gauge is probably Royal, based on inches and developed by Babbage. If there is open trade in digital recordings internationally at some point, they'll have the first format war!

Steam Cooker
This picture of a steam engine venting linked to from Metrix X's Flickr photostream; made available under a creative commons license, some rights reserved.

In the First Iteration the big science fictional device was the kinotrope. In the Second Iteration it is the steam powered racing vehicle. The action revolves around Michael Godwin's racing of his "line-streamed", "pneumo-dynamic" steam gurney, built under the auspices of the Brotherhood of Vapour Mechanics. His fragile, piscene contraption looks absurd next to the monstrous boiler platforms it contends with.

The description of the race itself perfectly captures the way genuinely effective innovation blindsides the world. When nobody sees it coming, there is a thin line between admiration and outrage. It feels as though someone has cheated, even when objective reality has rendered an inarguably impartial decision.

I think this breakthrough in functional automotive styling is meant to illustrate the shocking leap that has occurred in human capability when both industrial (steam) and information (pneumo-dynamic mathematics, enabled by the Difference Engine) revolutions coincide. Rather than arithmetic mechanical gradualism grinding with predictable brute force through several decades, we have a logarithmic discontinuity, so perfectly described:

Henry Chesterton stepped from the Zephyr. He tossed back a neck scarf, leaned at his ease against the shining hull of his craft, and watched with cool insolence as the other gurneys labored painfully across the finish line. By the time they arrived, they seemed to have aged centuries. They were, Mallory realized, relics.

Trevithick's Puffing Devil Z16573
This picture of Trevithick's Puffing Devil linked to from Ennor's Flickr photostream; made available under a creative commons license, some rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. thx for info... keep writing and giving us an information... glhf for ur day!!!