An audaciously imagined alternate history of the invention of the computer—in 19th-century Victorian England.
This graphic novel, written and illustrated by an artist and computer animator, begins with a sliver of fact—the brief, apparently unproductive “intellectual partnership” between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. She was 18 when they met, the daughter of Lord Byron, steered toward mathematics and science in order to avoid the irrationality and even madness of poetry and, in her words from the novel, “redeem my father’s irrational legacy.” He was a 42-year-old mathematics professor, “a super-genius inventor” according to the narrative, committed to developing “the radical non-human calculating machine.” “In a sense the stubborn, rigid Babbage and mercurial, airy Lovelace embody the division between hardware and software,” explains one of the voluminous footnotes (and endnotes) that take even more space than the graphic narrative. The historical version, such as it is, takes less than a tenth of the book, ending with Lovelace’s death from cancer at age 36, having written only one paper, while Babbage “never did finish any of his calculating machines. He died at seventy-nine, a bitter man. The first computers were not built until the 1940s.” Yet the historical account merely serves as a launching pad for the narrative’s alternative history, as the “multiverse” finds the development of oversized, steam-driven computers, with huge gears and IBM-style punch cards. The “Difference Engine” that Babbage conceived and Lovelace documented was initially championed by Queen Victoria, and Padua develops an account that encompasses the literary development of Samuel Coleridge, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Lewis Carroll. Like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, readers can get lost in the explosion of imagery and overwhelming notes that document the history that never was.
A prodigious feat of historically based fantasy that engages on a number of levels.