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THE THRILLING ADVENTURES OF LOVELACE AND BABBAGE

THE (MOSTLY) TRUE STORY OF THE FIRST COMPUTER

A prodigious feat of historically based fantasy that engages on a number of levels.

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.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-90827-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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HERE

A gorgeous symphony.

Illustrator McGuire (What’s Wrong With This Book, 1997, etc.) once again frames a fixed space across the millennia.

McGuire’s original treatment of the concept—published in 1989 in Raw magazine as six packed pages—here gives way to a graphic novel’s worth of two-page spreads, and the work soars in the enlarged space. Pages unspool like a player-piano roll, each spread filled by a particular time, while inset, ever shifting panels cut windows to other eras, everything effervescing with staggered, interrelated vignettes and arresting images. Researchers looking for Native American artifacts in 1986 pay a visit to the house that sprouts up in 1907, where a 1609 Native American couple flirtatiously recalls the legend of a local insatiable monster, while across the room, an attendee of a 1975 costume party shuffles in their direction, dressed as a bear with arms outstretched. A 1996 fire hose gushes into a 1934 floral bouquet, its shape echoed by a billowing sheet on the following page, in 2015. There’s a hint of Terrence Malick’s beautiful malevolence as panels of nature—a wolf in 1430 clenching its prey’s bloody haunch; the sun-dappled shallows of 2113’s new sea—haunt scenes of domesticity. McGuire also plays with the very concept of panels: a boy flaunts a toy drum in small panels of 1959 while a woman in 1973 sets up a projection screen (a panel in its own right) that ultimately displays the same drummer boy from a new angle; in 2050, a pair of old men play with a set of holographic panels arranged not unlike the pages of the book itself and find a gateway to the past. Later spreads flash with terrible and ancient supremacy, impending cataclysm, and distant, verdant renaissance, then slow to inevitable, irresistible conclusion. The muted colors and soft pencils further blur individual moments into a rich, eons-spanning whole.

A gorgeous symphony.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-40650-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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HEART OF DARKNESS

Gorgeous and troubling.

Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.

As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.

Gorgeous and troubling.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-63564-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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