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am 24. Juni 2000
Well, what can I say...
I've just finished reading this book... At this precise moment, I am feeling a kind of grief, which I usually feel when some book, that I really enjoyed, ends. I am missing not only the characters, but mainly the world itself.
And, to my disappointment, there are no sufficient interesting opinions about this story, in this site...
Most of the people here seems to complain about excessive details and the lack of a plot... I almost understand the reasons for the first (but I don't agree at all, and I am NOT an expert of 19th century).. However, "lack of a plot" sounds almost offensive... To me, it's always the little details that make a good story, plus the capacity to "tie" these events in a clever and interesting manner... I just can't explain it, but I really believe that the word "plot" is just not good enough (there is no plot in "Crime & Punishment", for instance, but it is still one of the best books i've ever read).
And the end was not unsatisfatory at all. In fact, I confess that I kind of guessed what was all about in the first 300 pages, so the conclusion was not THAT surprising (there are many clues along the book, though - the word "iteration" being an obvious one). But it only prooves that it wasn't an "anti-climax"; since the begining, the book was destinated to end like that.
So, I give you this hint: if you are a typical sci-fi lover, like "straight" stories, with plain characters, not too much (non scientific) details and a good definition of who-they-are and where-they-need-to-go; just DON'T read this book... You probably already prefer Asimov to Gibson, so why keep trying...
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am 16. Juli 2006
Von der Zusammenarbeit Gibson/Sterling war eigentlich mehr zu erwarten. Sie entwickeln in dieser Steam-Punk-Ausgeburt eine völlig abgefahrene Welt, ohne eine Geschichte zu erzählen.

Der Computer wurde im viktorianischen Zeitalter entwickelt, und deswegen geht die Welt schon 1850 so steil wie eigentlich erst seit Bill Gates. Diese Ausgangsposition ist gar nicht so unrealistisch, weil Charles Babbage tatsächlich kurz davor stand, eine funktionierende Rechenmaschine zu entwickeln. Jede Technik basiert auf Dampfmaschinen, zum Beispiel finden große Autorennen statt.

In Nebenanmerkungen entwickeln sie einige andere alternative Zeitstränge. Karl Marx macht Manhatten zu einer kommunistischen Kommune und Texas etabliert sich als eigenständiger Staat.

Genau diese Phantasien machen den Reiz des Buches aus. Man verliert sich in dieser Welt und ist überzeugt, dass es tatsächlich hätte so kommen können.

Doch wie so oft bei Gibson, verliert er sich im Aufbau seiner Welt und interessiert sich nicht für die Dramaturgie. Er lässt seine Protagonisten ziellos durch verschiedene Handlungsstränge stolpern, ohne auf ein Ziel hinzuarbeiten. Oft fragt man sich als Leser, was man an dieser Stelle verloren hat und ob ausser dem Rahmen überhaupt irgendetwas wichtig war an der gerade gelesenen Szene.

Wer Spass an diesem Buch haben will, sollte nebenbei die Wikikipedia oder die Enzyclopedia Brittanica am Start haben, denn der historische Zusammenhang und das tatsachliche Schicksal der Hauptfiguren bringt erst den Pfiff in die Lektüre dieses halb-gelungenen Romans.
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am 2. September 2012
When ordering this book I was expecting a great novel and was disappointed about half-way through. No detailed story about the "engine", just half glimses and descriptions touching the subject.
The "being there" feeling was portrayed and delivered superbly, by good descriptive language and nice choice of vocabulary.
But be warned, only about half of the book (literaly that is) covers the "engines", the other half is more of a fictional history novel.
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am 29. Juni 1998
I loved Neuromancer and Burning Chrome, so naturally I was excited about two cyberpunk authors teaming up.
Unfortunately this book goes sailing across the room every time I attempt to read it. This is the only book which I have ever physically thrown, and it deserves it.
Part of the reason is the run on sentences which drag on and on repeating parts without punctuation which you'd really think would have been dealt with by an editor but for some reason made it into the book and exist there to torment the reader for pages at a time until at some point the authors forget how the thing started and simply put the sentence out of its misery.
This isn't the worst book I have ever read, but it is the only one to go flying across the room. I eventually picked it up and returned it to the shelf. After spending several years cooling off I asked myself if perhaps I hadn't been a bit hasty in my judgement, and picked it up again.
It wasn't long before it again went sailing across the room.
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am 20. August 2008
Books that tell alternate histories often rest on bigger differences than this one, but the consequences Sterling and Gibson postulate couldn't be more radical.

What if 19th century inventor Charles Babbage had had the means to complete his Analytical Engine, the first programmable analog computer? The consequences they imagine remind of the well known butterfly that causes a storm. That hurricane like unleashing of ideas was rightfully termed steampunk.

In a world where science has taken a leading place in politics, analog computing has evolved to unknown heights and still much of society has reamained so charmingly victorian, that's where this novel is set. And this setting is at the same time the story's greatest assett. As in its mother-genre cyberpunk the plot is quick and dirty and the characters are not quite as three dimensional as in your average more literary fiction, but hey, they don't have steam powered supercomputers made of gears, do they?!

So generally speaking, the ideas the authors come up with are staggering, the world they build is fascinating and the pacing is fast enough not to let you get bored. As long as you don't expect literary brilliance you probably won't be dissapointed.
The punk in steampunk is there for a reason, don't say I didn't warn you!
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am 1. Mai 2000
The one thing that struck me the most about this book is that you have to know quite a bit in order to fully appreciate it.
You have to understand something of Victorian culture and technology; you have to understand the significant historic figures of the time; you have to understand the players in the industrial revolution and of the scientific community.
There are no explanations in this book - it is mostly assumed that you have this type of knowledge. If you do not have this knowledge, the meaning and depth of some events will be lost on you (which defeats part of the seeming purpose of the book) - and you will be even more confused as you are immersed in a fictional culture that is, to a point, supposed to already be a bit disorienting.
What this book does well is work as an anthropological treatise. It describes in great detail - one might say EXHAUSTING detail - the routine, day-to-day moments of life in a theoretical culture that could have been.
I was originally drawn to this book because the premise was intriguing: what if the computer revolution had intersected the historic time-line 100 years earlier than it did? As I have stated, this novel presents a plausible and intriguing vision of such an intersection.
Unfortunately, that's almost all it does. There is a purpose to it all - what could be described, in a more low sense, as a hook or "gotcha" at the end of it - but the 400 some odd pages leading up to it weren't an adequate justification for it, in my opinion.
While the ending wasn't intended as "a hook," the episodic, sometimes wandering nature of the main story-line weakened the conclusion's impact. Ultimately, it came across as being far too much labor to go through to arrive at, essentially, the ending of The Wizard of Oz.
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am 1. Mai 2000
The one thing that struck me the most about this book is that you have to know quite a bit in order to fully appreciate it.
You have to understand something of Victorian culture and technology; you have to understand the significant historic figures of the time; you have to understand the players in the industrial revolution and of the scientific community.
There are no explanations in this book - it is mostly assumed that you have this type of knowledge. If you do not have this knowledge, the meaning and depth of some events will be lost on you (which defeats part of the seeming purpose of the book) - and you will be even more confused as you are immersed in a fictional culture that is, to a point, supposed to already be a bit disorienting.
What this book does well is work as an anthropological treatise. It describes in great detail - one might say EXHAUSTING detail - the routine, day-to-day moments of life in a theoretical culture that could have been.
I was originally drawn to this book because the premise was intriguing: what if the computer revolution had intersected the historic time-line 100 years earlier than it did? As I have stated, this novel presents a plausible and intriguing vision of such an intersection.
Unfortunately, that's almost all it does. There is a purpose to it all - what could be described, in a more low sense, as a hook or "gotcha" at the end of it - but the 400 some odd pages leading up to it weren't an adequate justification for it, in my opinion.
While the ending wasn't intended as "a hook," the episodic, sometimes wandering nature of the main story-line weakened the conclusion's impact. Ultimately, it came across as being far too much labor to go through to arrive at, essentially, the ending of The Wizard of Oz.
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am 26. April 2000
Having just read this book over a period of a few days, I have to say that this was probably one of the most frustrating books I have ever read (I forced myself to read it through to the end).
From reading the amazon.com reviews of this book.. there seems to be two schools of thought about this book.. one that criticizes the book for its lack of plot and direction, and another that heaps praise upon it for its technical accuracy and cunning placement of notable historical figures.
I know it is never nice to be put in the "I just don't get it" camp.. but that appears to be the one I am in.. the narritive annoyingly jumped around from plot thread to plot thread, throwing in excerpts of unrelated drivel which confused me greatly. The story never went anywhere, and the resolution (if it could be called that) was certainly unsatisfactory for me.
Sure the setting was comprehenisvely researched and lovingly constructed, and I suppose could be classified as a good 'concept' book, but it fails as a book to tells an engaging story.
Don't get me wrong here, the few plot threads that were explored were well written.. it is just that the characters were pretty much dumped at differing points throughout the book.. and were never satisfactorily tied back into the story at any time. It felt like time wasted.
This book waffles.. Maybe it will improve with a second reading.. but I doubt if I have the stomach to tolerate it.
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am 15. Februar 2000
As several previous reviewers have commented extensively on the plot(or lack thereof), I will not go into detail on that. As a serious fan of both Gibson and to a lesser extent Stirling, when I heard about the colloboration on this novel I had very high hopes. Initially I was very dissappointed, the novel really seemed to drag, and the plot seemed to disappear in overwhelming detail, then I reached the far too brief section ending the first iteration and was just blown away by the sudden feeling that all of this actually had meaning. The less narrative sections at the ends of each iteration gave me enough encouragement to finish the novel, particularly the rather enjoyable one at the end after the nominal storyline is concluded. After I finished it I found myself suffieciently fascinated by the world and to a lesser extent the characters that I immediately reread the book and came away feeling satisfied that it had been worth the effort.
This is not a masterpiece when viewed purely as a novel but its real value lies in an exceptionally precise and detailed evocation of a Victorian Era that could have been, and the subtle parallels to our own situation. In the effects of the computer revolution on the Victorian Era we see reflections in a dark mirror of the effects on our own era, specific applicability is not certain but I liked the way that the perspectives from later times scattered throughout the book, particularly in the final section give hints of ways that our own society might go.
In a final note some of the historical variations, Keats as a Hacker, Byron as the Prime Minister and others too numerous to mention are quite entertaining and sometimes enlightening, I particularly liked the way that it is strongly suggested that ones career is more a matter of chance than commonly thought.
If you are willing to spend the time this novel is well worth reading, but be warned that it is often slow moving. It is emphatically not a page burner and is best appreciated with time to ponder its subtleties.
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am 11. Mai 1999
Read it twice, loved it once, GOT it the 2nd time.
My favorite little bit of the book -- and I think the fact that this IS my favorite bit will demonstrate what kind of person will like this book -- is when John Keats shows up as a clacker. GOD, that was brillant! First, you have to get who Keats was (not nearly enough people know him as one of the most brilliant poets ever), know his desire for literary immortality, about his early death... but you also have to understand the mutable nature of people's professions, of people who were "before their time"... in the world of TDE, Byron, Shelley and Keats never become the "Big 3" of the 19th century, but a Prime Minister, a dissident, and a graphic designer, respectively. People who dismiss this book without knowledge of the artists of the 19th century are missing a big point. Here we finf Sterling's "computers change humanity" points... Prime Minister in our world (Disreili) writes crappy books, while the greatest of the Romantic poets become hackers....
Secondly, I agree that you need to have an actual knowledge base in early computing to get it all... that Ada Byron's program was a strange loop NEEDS to be understood, because that leads towards...
... wait for it...
THE PLOT! Yes, there IS TOO a plot! Gibson/Sterling's quotation that it should/might take 50 years to understand the ending is because it won't be for at least 50 years that OUR computers achive what the Difference Engines did in the alternate 1990's of TDE -- to wit, true artificial intelligence, which has only its beginnings in the computation serieses of our own century.
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