Iteration the Fifth.

My hero! He's returned!

I love Oliphant. Can't help it. Won't bother apologizing. From his first speaking appearance when interviewing Mallory, when he gazes off into the distance and ruminates on some mystic vision, he makes gallant Neddie look positively one-dimensional. Oliphant seems just as schizophrenic as Ada, then swings back with some admirably self-assured promises of mystery and intrigue. My kind of man.

Reading this iteration brought me to the conclusion that the story in the middle three iterations is entirely crap, and could be mostly removed. Oliphant is our hero and Sybil, via likeable Mick, his catalyst. The stories in the first and fifth, wrapped up cleverly in the Modus, are the true grit of the story. I think what most readers complain of is falling too into the pulpy Mallory bits and ignoring the political affairs entirely.

What's most interesting about said political affairs is that they're comprised mainly of North American troubles, albeit affected by our characters in London and Paris. Europe is nothing more than a pretty tinted filter for those intricate plot developments: Britain's petty uprising during the Stink came to nothing, while the movements of American Marxists and sub-factions thereof are going to have far more interesting repercussions. The depiction of Marxism in the book is going to be worth of its own post soon, I'm afraid, so I'll leave this train of thought here.

I found all sorts of things in this chapter endearing. I loved the sneaky bits with Wakefield and his assorted spies and messengers; I loved Mister Hermann Kriege and the idea of Oliphant as an 'Uncle Larry.' I like the idea of "factions within the Party... Anarchists disguising themselves as communists... covert cells not under Manhattan's control...." I'm baffled by the pantomime, alarmed by the rubber bathtub, and rather despondent about the whereabouts of Betteredge. All in all, an excellent time was had.

(Oh yeah, and there was that evil-men-apprehended-world-turned-to-rights-everybody-rejoice stuff too. That was good, too.)


  1. I think you've hit something I haven't been able to sort out yet - there are actually two layered plots in this novel, one (the one you so dislike) is surface flash and pulp, full of steam gurneys and gunfire, and the other is told almost completely through implication, which you have to decipher using tools outside of the novel (you need to know more about the real history and people of the time, the real Lord and Lady Byron, the real Babbage, the real history of Marxism, the history of internal combustion, the history of international rivalries).

    Though I genuinely enjoyed the pulp steampunk square-jawed Conan Doyleness of the two fisted Victorian uprightness in the flashy side of it, I'm with you that the more interesting side is the more oblique one.

    I absolutely love that we never really find out what the set of French Guage punchcards did to the Parisian Engine, but that something posibly important has been set awry there.

    We should spend the rest of our time here unraveling this secret history.

  2. Yeah, this is really the case for me too. I was really interested to learn more about what was happening in America, heck i wanted to learn quite a bit more about some of the major differences that had occurred. Simultaneously I am a fan of Conan Doyle so I did enjoy the Oliphant intrigues. I disliked Mallory, intensely so after his first introduction, I almost wished that there was a whole other book, written by other people with Mallory (Action Paleontologist) and his sidekick Fraser (two days till retirement bobby) solving crimes concerning fossil thefts.

    I was chatting with some friends of mine and they speculated that the French cards, which had seemingly ruined the Great Napoleon were some sort of primitive A.I. which when the sequence was run created this parallel intelligence that now would thereafter inhabit the engine.

  3. One of my text files has a bunch of half-finished sentences like:
    "Americans shadow Radley + Houston. F.B. kills Texian assassin, formerly in league, as with Rudwick.
    "Engels as patron of American communism (via Marx).
    "Marxism via Babbage?
    "Texian hates Mexicans, but carries a Franco-Mexican gun. Supplied to him by?"

    I get the feeling that if I dig too deeply into the overseas political details, they might not cohere too well. But I'm gonna do it anyways.

    And you guys are getting ahead of me as regards the Modus. Stay tuned for more exciting punch-card action!