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

THE THRILLING ADVENTURES OF LOVELACE AND BABBAGE

THE (MOSTLY) TRUE STORY OF THE FIRST COMPUTER

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. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.

Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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