The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney PaduaIf youre not familiar with Lovelace and Babbage, Sydney Paduas delight-filled webcomic, rejoice! It has now made the transition to print. You can pick up a doorstop of brilliant Victoriana-flavoured geeky humour, historically painstaking footnoting, and lovely art - and you should do so IMMEDIATELY.
Let me just acknowledge right now that Im not even trying to be objective: Sydneys comic always hit the sweet spot of my sense of how the world ought to be. Her riff on the (factually rather grim) story of Lovelace and Babbage and their not-quite creation of the computer in the 1800s is brain jazz. Its filled with digressions, anachronisms and sketch protrayals of famous Victorians, all riven through with an ebullient goofiness. This is history as I wish it was: bright, caring and full of zing. Its also the modern world through a Padua prism, with jokes about Twitter and Venn diagrams sprinkled into the dialogue. That said, theres also a truth here, as you can immediately see if you dip into Babbages own writing: Sydneys portrayal of him as a Dickensian steam-age petrolhead with cranky uncle basenotes is spot on, and Lovelace - whose true historical upbringing was like something from a Warren Ellis comic about the Fascist precursors of the Superman concept - was every bit as quirky.
Theres something else going on, too, which is worth mentioning: this is a book about the creative process and the creative mind, with its fancies and magpie distractability, its excitements and sloughs of despond. I recognise the protagonists in myself and my friends and family, just as I do when I read Ray Bradburys Zen in the Art of Writing or G H Hardys remarkable A Mathematicians Apology. Creativity varies in its output according to any number of personality traits, but the process seems to be remarkably similar across disciplines: great artists, great activists, great poets, and great scientists share a veering perpendicular humour, and its alive here, in this book.
Thats why I ran around like a four year old yesterday after Sydney dropped in my copy: because this book is full of life. Go. Get it.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
I need not have worried. It would have been huge and difficult to construct; a working model of its predecessor, his Difference Engine, was only finally completed in — you can see it in the Science Museum — and even that apparently has a tendency to jam. However, assert that the machine got built Padua knows very well the difference between a Difference Engine and an Analytical Engine, but prefers to use the former term, on the understandable grounds that it is cooler , and the medium of comics is just the right way to proceed. What is remarkable is how often, as we learn in extremely engaging and well written footnotes and endnotes, such flights of fancy have a basis in reality. In short, this is an utter joy, but also, to hazard a semi-educated opinion, mathematically sound.
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A cornucopia of comics and a feast of footnotes! Publishers Weekly Starred Review. - Regular updates at 2dgoggles.
Eisner Awards Nominee!! Like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, readers can get lost in the explosion of imagery and overwhelming notes that document the history that never was. A prodigious feat of historically based fantasy that engages on a number of levels. Over 6 months on the New York Times Bestseller list! But what if things had been different? My new favourite book.
As a rule, I don't do book reviews. My main area of activity is software development, and I know too many authors. If I started reviewing books it would be an endless task. So I just don't do it. The book is mostly graphic novel, but with a sizable dollop of fascinating history thrown in. It opens with a comic book narrative of the collaboration between Countess Lovelace and Charles Babbage, which explains why we refer to Countess Lovelace as the first computer programmer. That done, and very entertainingly done, the book enters a pocket universe where Lovelace doesn't die young and is able to work further with Babbage and build the Analytical Engine.
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