Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels discussion

The Difference Engine
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Monthly Reading: Discussion > April 2018 "The Difference Engine" Discussion <Caution! Spoilers May Be Present!>

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message 1: by Art, Stay home, stay safe. (new) - rated it 3 stars

Art | 2551 comments Mod
Enjoy the read.


message 2: by Bryan, Village Idiot (last edited Apr 12, 2018 09:11AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Bryan | 481 comments Mod
I just finished this book last night. I had a difficult time finishing this one, like, I think it took a piece of my soul...

Let me just start off with what I liked:
1) it was well written.
2) it was humorous at times.
3) it wasn't all the long of a book.

What I didn't like:
1) I finished the book and I still don't know what's going on.
2) I don't know WHAT is going on in the book.
3) Please, god and goddess of Hugo and Nebula awards, provide me with someone who can tell me what I'm missing from this book!!

That's about it. Oh, the characters seemed to completely change personalities from chapter to chapter...and not like a growth, but like they were not the same person.

Sorry to be dramatic, but it isn't often I go through a whole book and feel like I missed the entire point of the story.


message 3: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (new) - rated it 1 star

Kateblue | 3667 comments Mod
I thought I had posted something here about this book, but apparently I didn't. I agree with all of Brian's points except the length. It seemed interminable to me.

Here is the review I posted. I started it from what I thought I posted here, but I guess I didn't ever push post.

1 star!

I don't know WHAT this book was supposed to be about. Mid-1800's is something I know nothing about in the REAL world, so any differences in the Difference Engine were lost on me.

The first part seemed totally unconnected from the middle with Mallory, then that first character briefly shows up again. And I have no idea what all that stuff was at the end.

No idea what the point of any of it was. Awful!

Nebula award nominee???? Well, I guess it must have been different and trendsetting. But AWFUL!!


message 4: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 3472 comments Mod
It hurts me to see such comments about this book.

The novel for me was very good but I admit that if I've read it before I know what I know now (history, computers, math) I also would have given it a low mark.

There is AI coming to consciousness story - check
There is a mystery box akin to one in Pulp Fiction - check
There is a wealth of references - check
The answer about what is the book and what was supposed to be there - great double check!


message 5: by Art, Stay home, stay safe. (last edited Apr 17, 2018 04:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Art | 2551 comments Mod
Trust me Oleksandr, I was really struggling with giving it such a low rating myself. Though I gave it only two stars it was a 5.4/10 for me (my star rating is a bit confusing for others, I still think of it in terms of 10 point system: 5*=10, 4*=8-9, 3*=6-7, 2*=4-5 and 1*=1-3)
That being said, I think I will try rereading it because the first two chapters of the book were 9/10 for me and after the whole ordeal with the "Stink" started it just started rolling downhill and never recovered.

The phrasing and detailed description of the surroundings that absolutely enthralled me in the beginning got really tiresome in its profusion and would bog down the story that had a feeble narrative of an actual plot to begin with.

I also agree with Bryan on the account of characters not acting persistently throughout the book and once they lost their charm it was hard getting back into the whole thing.

Regarding at first witty references to the actual historical events and figures I can say that they really overdone it not by a smidge but by whole shovel fulls. Halfway through the book you would get 4-5 obscure references that the most of the laymen would know nothing about. I admit I am not as knowledgeable about 18th-19th century London as it is required to get all the fun facts in the book, but as far as it is concerned with the technologies of that age and Royal Scientific Society, I would say I've read a thing or two (just read Seeing Further, book written entirely about RSS and its exploits) and still I had to look things up every 2nd page.

The whole scene at the docks made me cringe, I think I will try rereading it in a few years, see if I can get it a better rating but I honestly doubt that it will even get to 4*.

By the end of the book my sentiments could be described by this quote taken from the book:

"Mallory put on another sheath, with some clumsy fumbling, almost losing his erection as he did so. To his relief, he managed to enter her, where he soon regained stiffness in her welcoming flesh, and thumped hard at her, tired and drunk, with an ache in his arms and his wrists and his back, and a strange painful tingling at the root of his prick. The glans felt quite sore, almost painfully tender within its sheep-gut armor, and to spend seemed as hard and tricky as pulling a rusty nail. The bed-springs creaked like a field of metal crickets. Halfway through, Mallory felt as if he had run for miles, and Hetty, whose dead cigarette had burnt the bureau, seemed entranced, or perhaps only stunned, or drunk. For a moment he wondered if he should simply stop, quit, tell her somehow that it simply wasn't working, but he could not even begin to find the words that would satisfactorily explain this situation, so he sawed on."

So I sawed on, trying to like the book I ended up being disappointed in.


message 6: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 3472 comments Mod
Just a few notes that one may find interesting:

1. Modus or the way for sure win in gambling. There is a classical Russian book Пиковая дама. Египетские ночи by the most famous XIX poet Alexander Pushkin, where the main protagonist seduces a girl to get a secret to win in cards - so this is really a theme from the period.

2. What Ada Byron proved is actually Gödel's incompleteness theorems, which you can Google and which is the great piece most people don't understand - there is no possibility to have a system with a finite set of axioms. For example in The Dark Forest the author completely misses it


message 7: by Art, Stay home, stay safe. (last edited Apr 17, 2018 05:59AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Art | 2551 comments Mod
My own turn off in regards to those three issues you brought up (those being Modus, Gödel's Theorem and the AI thingie) is mostly based on the delivery of all of those three subjects. While potentially they are all interesting subjects, the story either omits the buildup before revealing any of them on purpose or just fails to deliver the punch line in any meaningful manner. Not mentioning the fact that they are dropped on you much rather as an afterthought than anything else.



It may be a bit too harsh of a comparison, but getting the most significant parts of the book and grudging through the sludge of obscure references felt like pulling a tooth.


message 8: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (new) - rated it 1 star

Kateblue | 3667 comments Mod
Sorry I just couldn't like it, O. I'm glad you do.

I bet you are a lot smarter than me, too.


message 9: by Bryan, Village Idiot (new) - rated it 2 stars

Bryan | 481 comments Mod
Oleksandr: It seems like this sub-genre is one you like. This was my first jump into steam punk. Would you say this is a good representation of steam punk? If not, what would you recommend?


message 10: by Art, Stay home, stay safe. (last edited Apr 17, 2018 08:12AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Art | 2551 comments Mod
Steampunk universe and atmosphere was an absolute 10/10 for me, to be honest instead of it being a genre it is better to think of it as a set of props to set the mood for a novel or a movie.

Naturally, steampunk culture involves technology powered by steam and 18th and 19th centuries are the most common time periods featured. However the genre of a steampunk book is not restricted to sci-fi or fantasy, it can be horror or even a romance. Jules Verne wrote multiple novels featuring elements of steampunk, so did H.G.Wells even though the genre wasn't even invented at the time.


message 11: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 3472 comments Mod
Kateblue wrote: "I bet you are a lot smarter than me, too."

That's flattering but in reality I guess that each book has its time; as I said earlier it is quite likely that I'd dislike it previously, some 20 years ago :) it is more about what interests you in a given moment and what you expect from the book and what you actually get.


message 12: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 3472 comments Mod
Bryan wrote: "Oleksandr: It seems like this sub-genre is one you like. This was my first jump into steam punk. Would you say this is a good representation of steam punk? If not, what would you recommend?"

I read a few steampunk novels, I had high expectations for the sub-genre but most works were mediocre for me. The Difference Engine was written a decade before the term gained popularity, so it is more like a fertile ground than a tree.

Most steampunk I've read is much weaker on the science and plausibility. Often it has supernatural or magic openly, so it drifted to fantasy. I like both fantasy and SF, preferring each in different moods, but I generally don't like much steampunk I read. Don't get me wrong - most books are fine, but they lack that wow factor for me.

So, what I can recall:
Soulless, steampunk with vampires, easy read
Boneshaker with zombies and airships, not badly written
A Nomad of the Time Streams proto-steampunk or more alt-history by Michael Moorcock, quite livid if you like the author then recommended
Everfair, last year nominee for Hugo and/or Nebula, a story of colonization of Congo where the reign of Belgium with all those cut-off hands was partially prevented and new African society was built. I haven't liked it, too gloomy


message 13: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (last edited Apr 17, 2018 10:28AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Kateblue | 3667 comments Mod
My only other steampunk

I think "Leviathan," a 3 Book Series by Scott Westerfeld, is steampunk (tho' early 20th century.) Like all Westerfeld's stuff, it's supposed to be YA, but here, he's like Heinlein. It's just that the 2 protagonists are teens, but doing adult things in an adult world. And most of the other characters are adult.

(Maybe the writing is too straightforward for an adult novel, I don't know. I like straightforward.)

The 2d and 3d books are much higher rated (3.91, 4.18 and then 4.25), more than the usual from uninterested readers dropping a series. I warn about this because, when I listened to the books on CD in the car (a different experience for me than reading) I did think the first book was slow, but when i was all done, I was really sorry it was over.

Here's the blurb from Amazon:

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.


Not the best thing I ever read, but worth it.


message 14: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 3472 comments Mod
Kateblue wrote: "My only other steampunk

I think "Leviathan," a 3 Book Series by Scott Westerfeld, is steampunk (tho' early 20th century.) Like all Westerfeld's stuff, it's supposed to be YA, but here, he's like H..."


I love Heinlein juveniles, have to check this guy!


message 15: by Art, Stay home, stay safe. (last edited Apr 17, 2018 07:15PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Art | 2551 comments Mod
Going back to the subject of the book, there is one more thing that bugs me... plenty of people loved the fact that the great reveal of this novel was AI pulling a "gotcha" on the reader but even that bit seems a lot like an afterthought rather that something that reader could appreciate in terms of "Oh, I see... Well isn't it splendid!".

What I am trying to say is that nowhere (in the least where I noticed) in the book there was anything even remotely suggesting that outcome. Apart one sole exception, the word 'iteration' which had connotations of technology taking part in weaving the narrative.

But for what it's worth, the whole grand reveal could have been that it was the distant future of year 2075 and nazi Germans were in alliance with the Martians, took over the planet Earth and were running computer simulations of the events described in the book in order to get more acquainted with the history of influence of ecological disasters (zie Stink) on formation of revolutionary movements. What I am saying is that I am not a fan of having something dropped on me with intent of getting a forced 'woah dude!'.

Does that make sense? I might've missed something, but for the life of me I know not what it could've been.


message 16: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 3472 comments Mod
Art wrote: "Does that make sense? I might've missed something, but for the life of me I know not what it could've been. "

not only iterations but the beginning of each chapter where old photos are described dispassionately


message 17: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (last edited Apr 29, 2018 10:56AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Kateblue | 3667 comments Mod
Did anyone see this review? The guy rated it 2 stars. Whether you like the book or not you have to laugh . . .


The Difference Engine
by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling
131922
mark monday's review Mar 24, 2011
it was ok
bookshelves: foggy-nights, rain-man-reviews

STEAMPUNK SALAD

3 (5-ounce) cans solid Victorian Era packed in water
1/2 cup minced Bruce Sterling
1/2 cup minced William Gibson
1/4 cup Technological Speculation
1 hard-boiled Spy Thriller, chopped in large pieces
1 soft-boiled Detective Tale, finely minced
3 Major Characters, lukewarm
1 Mysterious Box of Computer Punch Cards
Salt and Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Ambition

STEP 1
Place Victorian Era in fine-mesh strainer and press dry with paper towels. Transfer to medium bowl and mash with fork until finely flaked. Microwave Bruce Sterling and William Gibson with Ambition until both authors begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Fold in authors, Technological Speculation, Spy Thriller, and Detective Tale into Victorian Era and mix until bland and without individualistic flavor.

STEP 2
Stir 3 Major Characters and 1 Mysterious Box of Computer Punch Cards into mixture. VERY IMPORTANT: mix thoroughly! Mixture must remain insipid and uninspiring. Add discreet amounts of Salt and Pepper. Salad can be refrigerated in airtight container for several decades.


message 18: by Art, Stay home, stay safe. (new) - rated it 3 stars

Art | 2551 comments Mod
Heh yeah, that one made me chuckle.


message 19: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 3472 comments Mod
Kateblue wrote: "Did anyone see this review? The guy rated it 2 stars. Whether you like the book or not you have to laugh . . ."

The review's author forgot to add spicing by real historical figures and events and peppering with pseudo-hacker slang... it's all in the flavor, folks!


message 20: by Bryan, Village Idiot (new) - rated it 2 stars

Bryan | 481 comments Mod
Oleksandr wrote: "Kateblue wrote: "Did anyone see this review? The guy rated it 2 stars. Whether you like the book or not you have to laugh . . ."

The review's author forgot to add spicing by real historical figure..."


Lol. I'm dying over both you and Kate.


message 21: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (new) - rated it 1 star

Kateblue | 3667 comments Mod
I always try to bring a smile . . . even if it's just passing on someone else's humor.


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