When characters jump off a page it excites us out of those early to bed reading ritual, finding ourselves glancing at a clock face that reads 1:30 am. They get condensed into proton particles, zapped directly into our minds, producing rich interactions that fool us into formulating believably. We dream about them. Accidentally go through our phones on a Saturday morning, hunting for their entry, ready to ping over an invite to a spot of brunch. When they reply, telling us they’ve already made plans; we don’t react. Even though such circumstances, resound to the realms of insanity.
Sci-Fi authors struggle with this kind of believably in character creation. Instead, they create clique heroes and villains, whom as a reader you feel the author was painting by numbers. The Amazonian female lead character and the psychopath villain bore the shit out of us. They’re as flat as the dullard yarns printed on equally flat sheets of paper. What can make them rich? The answer is in the honesty.
Two separate authors, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, wrote the Difference Engine. Both crowned with awards prior jumping aboard the cyberpunk craze of the late 80’s. Each excellent at two must have skills for amazing Sci-Fi. World building and character development. In the novel, this is abundantly clear. The world is set in an 1855’s re-imagining that the computer had already been invented. This bright idea sets up an incredible backdrop that’s full of rich imagery giving your imagination a further workout as your cast between London and Texas, traversing the world that feels tangible and inviting. Many critics before me had written that it was too “wordy” or “try hard” to be clever. But that’s just it isn’t it, Steampunk attracts an intelligent reader, and the authors know their audience. The characters are intensely brooding especially Mallory, the talented anti-hero gambling addict that would wager his mother if it meant a good return on a surefire win.
The interaction between characters flows effortlessly. Their actions make sense and help to drive the plot forward, which oddly is the only downfall. Loose ends are left annoyingly left untied, and nothing tends to happen in the saggy middle. Was this a contending issue among the authors? I imagine tackling a book this heavily descriptive, is complicated with two writers at the helm. Dueling egos both of which deserve their Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award . And can come up with flowery sentences in an economy of words.
All in all, the Difference Engine is pure escapism. Great to see that it’s still imprinted and reads fabulously. Everyone that loves Steampunk and even Cyberpunk for that matter should read it. And any writers out there should dust off their notebooks. The book contains some of the best examples of dialogue I’ve ever read. Hats off!