This blog was originally posted in Books and Lesser Evils –
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua is an irreverent and quirky view of what could have been the most outstanding scientific collaboration that didn’t happen. Padua tells her tale in a graphic comic format with artwork reminiscent of early turn of the century (the 1900s) political cartoons. Its fun! Its awesome! Its over indulgent cheesecake for the geek universe!
Charles Babbage is Victorian London’s unrecognized inventor of what would become the modern day computer with his plans for a monstrous mechanical calculating machine. Ada Lovelace is the Countess of Lovelace and daughter of the mad and brilliant poet, Lord Byron. Ada Lovelace translates a description of Babbage’s calculating machine with annotations that were three times longer than the original plans. These footnotes from Lovelace actually contain the first known general computing theory, a century before the first actual computer was built! Unfortunately Lovelace passed away before her paper was ever published and Babbage never built his brilliant machine.
Sydney Padua creates an alternate reality where Lovelace and Babbage create their awesome calculating machine. A behemoth that grows and grows in steam powered engines, and gears, and analytics, and doo dads and just freakin’ awesome stuff. They will open up and explore the wild and untamed dimensions of mathematics! They will create economic models to stave off depressions! The will battle the demons of spelling errors! And for the Queen herself, create dot matrix kittens!
Tongue in cheek perhaps, totally geeky surely, but fun all the same. Original. Thought provoking. Full of “what if” and untapped potential. In Babbage, the blustering scientist whose uncompromising and attitude make him a social pariah, Padua has developed a character whose brilliance makes him an outsider to a society he frowns upon but needs to continue his work. In Lovelace, the pre-feminist in Victorian society whose love of mathematics is only rivaled by her fear and disdain for poetry and the arts. Poetry which is in too many ways her opium, her drug, her weakness as she abhors the immoral ways of her father. Together they could have accomplished the unthinkable and in The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, they do. Granted by happenstance at times but isn’t half the fun?
A terrific read!