Dramatis Personae: Ada Byron.

We meet Ada on Derby Day; she makes no more personal appearances until the very end of the novel. Seemingly either drugged or under much personal strain, she rambles about the mathematical predictability of harmony, and the creation of "marshaled regiments" which "shall ably serve the rulers of the earth." Then she runs off, impish little scamp that she is.

Her next speaking role is onstage in Paris, where her theory loses much of its majesty in being presented so formally. She tosses out a loose reference to Leibniz, who modelled a crank-operated calculator, and seems quite stoic in the face of her own achievements being unrealizable.

I'm unimpressed with the apparent disconnect between Ada's science-oriented mind and the gambling obsession everyone else credits her with. The Modus may very well have been for the purposes of gambling, but I think that, in her mind, being able to predict the movements of horses and dogs is secondary to the ability to predict, uh, everything. She hasn't been painted as a person with such self-awareness -- I think of the long-standing tradition of television characters with the ability to time-travel or see visions to hone in on winning lottery tickets before anything else. (Except in Early Edition. That guy was totally altruistic. He even fed the cat.)

Of course, seeing the entirety of organic movement represented in pure data would maybe "suck the life-blood from the mysteries of the universe," a crime for which she blames the Royal Society. Then again, maybe she means it as a compliment. It is rather hard to tell. Ada's passion seems quite single-minded, narrow of purpose -- I have as hard a time believing the gambling talk as I do the suggestion made by that prostitute of Mallory's that Ada sleeps with whomever she wants in the House of Lords. What I do wonder about is whether Ada's true-to-life mathematical obsession would have survived in this rewritten world.

To be a real stickler about the whole thing: Ada became an adept in the maths and sciences because her father was a philandering sissy, a poet and lover: in other words, an inadequate father figure -- with the added bonus of frustrating Ada's mother to the point of separation. Had Byron instead channeled those passions into politics and power, empowering as he does in the novel a generation of radical thinkers and change-affecters, what motivation would Ada's mother have had to push her daughter into such manly studies? Her unquestioned aptitude would more likely have sat dormant all her life, buried amidst the frills of a high-ranking socialite.

I mulled over this theory-breaker six months ago, when I flipped through a few Ada biographies, but was reminded of it from a trip through Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, trying to identify precisely where Byron and Shelley could've become so politically inflamed, so socially-minded, that they would've borne arms against each other -- or where Samuel Coleridge espoused a Fourierist approach to society -- or why Wordsworth would ever found a church, let alone join an existing one. No luck. As far as authorial "what ifs" go, I'm more unimpressed with Gibson and Sterling the more I think about it. So I'll stop thinking about it.