During a recent #steampunkchat on twitter, the question came up on what book to suggest as a starting point for newcomers to steampunk. The suggestion several of us gave was The Difference Engine.

This book is steampunk that is very close to it science fictional roots, somewhat to be expected given the authors. Following the alternate history tradition, Gibson and Sterling make a small change in the world (Babbage completes his analytic engine) and show us the implications (a mechanical-computer driven revolution in technology). And, because they are both solid writers, we even get a compelling story, part mystery and part thriller.

Official description:

1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with history—and the future:

Sybil Gerard—a fallen woman, politician’s tart, daughter of a Luddite agitator

Edward “Leviathan” Mallory—explorer and paleontologist

Laurence Oliphant—diplomat, mystic, and spy.

Their adventure begins with the discovery of a box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for….

Part detective story, part historical thriller, The Difference Engine is the collaborative masterpiece by two of the most acclaimed science fiction authors writing today. Provocative, compelling, intensely imagined, it is a startling extension of Gibson’s and Sterling’s unique visions—and the beginning of movement we know today as “steampunk!”


As always, a few reviews to get you started:

And if you have some thoughts (or relevant links) to share, please do so below.