Monday, June 8, 2015

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

The title: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
The author: Sydney Padua
Publication: Pantheon, 2015
Got it from: The library

Ah, Ada Lovelace.  Daughter of Lord Byron, the original Queen of Steampunk, arguably the world's first computer programmer.  Is there anything she can't do?  Sydney Padua doesn't think so, as she sets out to prove in this graphic novel/alternate history/adventure/science and math lesson.  Yes, it's all over the place, as hard to pin down as Charles Babbage's never-finished Analytical Engine.  This graphic novel is really a series of vignettes of "what might have been" if the computer had actually been built and was used to solve crime and various economical woes.  Interspersed are a whole lot of background notes (seriously, at one point I was in the footnote of a footnote of a footnote).  Various Victorian personages drop in and out, including Queen Victoria (apparently the world's first fan of LOLCats), George Eliot and of course the Romantics. 

It's all a lot of silliness, of course, but oh my goodness is there a lot of math and science.  I encountered terms I haven't heard since school and didn't know I even remembered.  After reading detail after detail of how the Analytical Engine was designed, I think I may actually have a slight grasp of how computers work.  Don't worry, it's not all dry mathematics, there's actually some pretty great historical humour in here that Victorianists will appreciate.  I particularly love a scene where actual computers (people who did computations) try to wreck the machine Luddite-style and Babbage sits them down to tea to reason with them.  Both Babbage and Lovelace were fascinating characters who make excellent heroes this quirky and fun book.

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