Brave New Worlds: The Difference Engine and The Murder of the Century

June 8, 2012 by

I recently had the good fortune to read two excellent and complementary books in tandem. One was The Difference Engine, a famous piece of sci-fi alternate history by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It takes place in Victorian England—a different Victorian England, still driven by steam and innocent of electricity, but one in which Charles Babbage’s machine for mechanical computing has been perfected. New but oddly familiar vistas of technology, pollution, wealth, crime, control, and oppression confront the characters and the reader. The other book is Murder of the Century, by Paul Collins. It reads like a prequel to The Difference Engine, with the added advantage that it is both strange and true.