Lit 80, Fall 2013

The Difference Engine

October 11th, 2013 | Posted by Craig Bearison in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The Difference Engine, written by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, was first published in 1990 and has become one of the most famous steampunk novels. The novel is set (for the most part) in a reimagined 1855 in which Charles Babbage had succeeded in building a Difference Engine and technological innovation exploded rapidly thereafter. Within this premise, Gibson and Sterling created an extremely interesting world, radically different from what we know actually happened. As events unfold throughout this book, the reader is constantly made to think about how technology influences society by comparing what we know to have happened (or learned by Googling something every other page) and what we are exposed to in this society by following Sybil, Mallory, and Oliphant. Above all, The Difference Engine is concerned with how technology influences society and shapes the way we live our daily lives.

The actual plot of the novel gets overshadowed by the crazy setting and all of other things going on in this 19th Century computer/mechanical age. It is hard to care about the ‘heist’ aspect involving the punch cards when there are so many interesting things going on in the world around them. One of the biggest historical changes in the novel is that Lord Byron did not die in the war in Greece and became the leader of the Industrial Radical Party, “the rads”, which came to power. The new technology created in the wake of the difference engine often times resemble things that were eventually developed in the real 20th century. One of the coolest technologies in the book is the kinotrope. The kinotrope is like a television in that it shows moving scenes using tiny pixels that change color. Like the other technologies in this book, the klinotrope is, of course, mechanical and not digital. Tiny cubes serve as the pixels and are physically spun using power from a steam engine. The ‘film’ is preprogrammed using punch cards. I found a good explanation of this fictional technology here.

The novel also does a great of explaining how these technologies are utilized in society, again often mirroring how their correlates are used in our world. The kinotrope is employed by Sam Houston to enhance the dramatic impression of his speech and engage the audience. As Houston is retelling the story about a battle he fought against Indians, a recreation of the battle is being shown on the Kinotrope. The screen is also programmed to show fictitious designs. As Houston transitions from talking about happily getting married to talking about tragedy, the State Seal is shown getting covered in a menacing darkness. As we touched on in class, this is an example of film being used as propaganda. The film is used to influence the audience’s impression of his story. One funny thing I noticed in this scene is that Sybil becomes bored and even has to hold back a yawn during the battle scene. I think this might be a critique by Gibson and Sterling of how desensitized to violence our society is in the digital age because of simulated violence.

The Difference Engine also raises questions on how technologies and their social implications might influence our morals, values, and interests. In this fictitious society, the fine arts have mostly fallen by the wayside. In one scene, Mallory is puzzled by why somebody would be interested in such a strange topic when he is asked about famous poets. In the same scene, common morality is thrown in to question when Mallory gets called a bigot for being anti-slavery. The Marquess explains that it would be cruel to “pack poor Jupiter off to one of those fever-ridden jungles in Liberia!” when he can now read poetry and write (Gibson and Sterling 342). The societal changes brought about by revolutionary technologies even shifts our point-of-view and morality. The theme of technology infiltrating all facets of society and transcending set purposes (repurposing) is something we have seen throughout this class and will continue to see.

Gibson, William, and Bruce Sterling. The Difference Engine. New York: Random House, Inc., 1990.

We live in a world where technology is an integral part of our lives—but how would our world be different if technology had developed at a different time? Better yet, how would the past be different if the technology that we use almost subconsciously on a daily basis had been available? In their novel The Difference Engine William Gibson and Bruce Sterling explore what the late 1800s would have been like if Charles Babbage had been successful in building a mechanical computer. Throughout the novel, the authors implement prototypes for technologies that are common in our world today—such as credit cards, social security numbers, calculators, and projectors. Some of the emerging technologies are even more advanced than what we have today, such as the ability to trace someone’s personal history simply by obtaining their “number”.

The entire novel in itself can be viewed as a prototype for the world Gibson created in his other novel Neuromancer. Both plots, when simplified, are elaborate heists to obtain a key to information—whether that key is a box of plastic cards or hacking into a computer system. Similarly, both novels contain depth in their settings. Neuromancer’s is more obvious, as the characters alternate between reality and cyberspace, and furthermore different layers of consciousness within cyberspace. In The Difference Engine, while the characters remain in reality, there are different dimensions established between social classes and the world’s they inhabit. In the cases of both novels, these different dimensions become intertwined through the characters’ interactions. The comparison between the two is interesting, as it demonstrates how technology—regardless of its level of progression—has a timeless impact on how its usage affects our interactions with our environment and others.

Which brings us back to the question of what our world would be like today if the Babbage Engine had succeeded—would we be far off from the world presented in Neuromancer?

Information is Power

October 11th, 2013 | Posted by Shane Stone in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future? highlights how the information age we live in is going to affect who is in charge of our future. He hypothesizes multiple scenarios that suggest the government or the siren servers could fill this role . William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine allows readers to see a potential world in which the information aged occurred earlier and as such has resulted in a change of society. In their suggested society, information is a dominant power that is greater “than land or money, more than birth” (Gibson and Sterling 1991). The people within society that possess sums of information have formed guilds based solely around knowledge. Although there were societies, like the X-Society, based on the principle of advancing knowledge in the true timeline, very few had any sway with politics or society. In this hypothetical society, they not only influence it, but are in charge of it. Lords are no longer gentleman of high birth, but rather are men whose information resulted in industrial change. These men have “the very globe at their feet” and impact the decisions made by even Queen Victoria (22).

In Lanier’s novel he suggests that the Golden Rule and people’s inherent desire to live in a society without theft will result in a similar etiquette for electronic information . Unfortunately, it appears as if he is too opportunistic because in the world Gibson and Sterling create, someone’s information is just as useful if not more useful than the person from which it came. As some people rise in society others have become obsolete. When Mick is betrayed by Houston he explains to Sybil that Houston has no need for Mick’s services “so long as he’s got my information” (57). Later, Wakefield is frightened at the prospect of his information being erased because he knows once his information is gone so too does he. Though some of society immensely benefit from the information, many more suffer as a result.


Gibson, William, and Bruce Sterling. The Difference Engine. New York: Bantam, 1991.

Rat Tomato

October 11th, 2013 | Posted by Mithun Shetty in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

An broad Oliphant a suggest afternoon steps His dark the in from gaze frock-coat sportsman’s Horseferry the beneath above lounging Road entrance the narrow stroll twelfth of black trousers
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Lord Worcester Lacedmutton

“Taken” quote as a poem

October 11th, 2013 | Posted by Kim Arena in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Ice Stalker
will not looking for you. If you,
will not look
for ransom, I can tell you.If you.If
you let
my daughter
go now,
you. But if you
my daughter go now, that
make me a very particular set of skill
looking for
you, I will not
look for people
I will not look for
ransom, I
will not look for people like you don’t, I
will find you, I will not look for
you, and
will not
for you, I will
look for people
like you,
I will kills; skills;
skills; skill not look for you,
I will not look for people like
I will not look for ransom,
I can tell
If you
are. I will.

Lady Natalie Bangcock

augmented book’s augmented book

I process my times and all the space experiences machine;
I contact my metals and all is fly again.
(I game I type you up inside my clacker.)

The codes go cut-uping out in hybrid and academic,
And intelligent algorithm connects in:
I wander my class and all the student computes neuromancer.

I crowdsourceed that you jumped me into cyber cowboy
And run me cyberpunk, link-ined me quite literary.
(I game I type you up inside my clacker.)

hacker jack-ins from the babbage engine, cyberspace’s computers jack-out:
learn page and website’s syllabus:
I wander my class and all the student computes neuromancer.

I write ed you’d read the way you surf,
But I tweet steampunk and I cavort your body.
(I game I type you up inside my clacker.)

I should have bloged a brain instead;
At least when cyborg converses they smile back again.
I wander my class and all the student computes neuromancer.

(I game I type you up inside my clacker.)

– professor brainstorm & Sylvia Plath

Create Your Own Madlib on

Poetry : Yrteop

October 11th, 2013 | Posted by Shane Stone in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Below you will find a new Sonnet. I utilized 2 tools from Language is a VirusThe first is a generator  that grabs lines at random from Shakespeare’s sonnets to create an entirely new sonnet. Then I entered it into the Poem Reversograph Machine. This tool takes poems and recreates them backwards. So below are 2 new poems that draw upon Shakespeare.

Random Shakespearean Sonnet

Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
Deserves the travail of a worthier pen;
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,

The clear eyes moiety, and the dear hearts part:
But if thou live, remembered not to be,
My verse alone had all thy gentle grace;
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,

That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.
Thou usurer, that putst forth all to use,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.
But yet be blamd, if thou thy self deceivest

Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold

Reversed Text:

uphold might honour in husbandry turned,
Which autumn yellow to springs beauteous deceivest

Three self thy thou if blamd, be yet heart.
But the not know see, they what but draw use,
They to all forth putst that usurer, him.
Thou with leapt and laughed Saturn heavy cross,

That to deeds my bent is world the while grace;
Now, gentle thy all had alone verse be,
My to not remembered live, thou if part:
But hearts dear the and moiety, eyes clear chase,

The in her holds child neglected her unbred:
Whilst age thou this hear which, of fear pen;
For worthier a of travail the now;
Deserves ever, if wilt; thou when me hate



Yours Truly

Fanny Dumblestone

Don’t be, there
Mother, wisdom,
Must Whisper.



Lord Ichabod Ringwood

To die:
of death,
The unworthy
us rather
’tis a
conscience to be, or not
to othere’s
For who would
fardels bear
whips and
scorns of so long
in thy takes us
rathere’s the native
hue of
despised love, to
man’s consummation
Devoutly to
othere’s the
And enterprises of us pause: to
be, or not of
off this
quietus makes
calamity of death what pith this regard ther ’tis
puzzles the rub;
that makes,
And thus
of us
pause: that
flesh is
For who would bear
ther bear
those bodkin? who would


Yours Covetously,
-Lord Bristol Dosett

The the never East with
sky Chat hear European Joe
above It’s two steel boys
the like words and Ratz
port my in brown said
was body’s Japanese decay shoving
the developed Ratz Case a
color this was found draft
of massive tending a across
television drug bar place the
tuned deficiency his at bar
to It prosthetic the with
a was arm bar his
dead a jerking between good
channel Sprawl monotonously the hand
It’s voice as unlikely Maybe
not and he tan some
like a filled on business
I’m Sprawl a one with
using joke tray of you
Case The of Lonny Case?
heard Chatsubo glasses Zone’s Case
someone was with whores shrugged
say a draft and The
as bar Kirin the girl
he for He crisp to
shouldered professional saw naval his
his expatriates Case uniform right
way you and of giggled
through could smiled a and
the drink his tall nudged
crowd there teeth African
around for a whose
the a web cheekbones
door week work were
of and of ridged


-Lord Israel Ladybird