The Literary Horizon: The Difference Engine, Pirate Latitudes

This week, we’re going to take a look at some historical fiction of note–a seminal example of steampunk and Michael Crichton’s last novel.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with history – and the future: Sybil Gerard – fallen woman, politicians tart, daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward “Leviathan” Mallory – explorer and paleontologist. Laurence Oliphant – diplomat, mystic, and spy. Their adventure begins with the discovery of a box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for…

Part detective story, part historical thriller, The Difference Engine is the first collaborative novel by two of the most brilliant and controversial science fiction authors of our time. Provacative, compelling, intensely imagined, it is a startling extension of Gibson’s and Sterling’s unique visions – in a new and totally unexpected direction!

via Barnes & Noble

During a wonderful webchat with Scott Westerfeld over at readergirlz two weeks ago, he mentioned The Difference Engine in passing as a steampunk novel. I also recently stumbled across The Thrilling Adventures of Babbage and Lovelace, featuring Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace fighting crime (well, street musicians and poetry) with math. So it seemed like serendipity–time to add The Difference Engine to the list.

Christine at She Reads Books found it slow and jumpy, attributing it to two authors writing one book, but Peter D. Tillman at Infinity Plus simply thinks of it as an amazing series of stories and vignettes rather than a traditional novel, although he notes it’s a unique book that might be an acquired taste. I’m glad I know how it’s structured now, instead of when I started, which would have probably frustrated me–this way, I’ll still give it a go.

The Difference Engine was released on March 1, 1991–it’s my age!

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Jamaica in 1665 is a rough outpost of the English crown, a minor colony holding out against the vast supremacy of the Spanish empire. Port Royal, Jamaica′s capital, a cut-throat town of taverns, grog shops, and bawdy houses, is devoid of London′s luxuries; life here can end swiftly with dysentery or a dagger in your back. But for Captain Edward Hunter it is a life that can also lead to riches, if he abides by the island′s code. In the name of His Majesty King Charles II of England, gold in Spanish hands is gold for the taking. And law in the New World is made by those who take it into their hands.

Word in port is that the Spanish treasure galleon El Trinidad, fresh from New Spain, is stalled in nearby Matanceros harbor awaiting repairs. Heavily fortified, the impregnable Spanish outpost is guarded by the blood-swiller Cazalla, a favorite commander of King Philip IV himself. With the governor′s backing, Hunter assembles a roughneck crew to infiltrate the enemy island and commandeer the galleon, along with its fortune in Spanish gold. The raid is as perilous as the bloody legends of Matanceros suggest, and Hunter will lose more than one man before he finds himself on the island′s shores, where dense jungle and the firepower of Spanish infantry are all that stand between him and the treasure.

With the help of his cunning crew, Hunter hijacks El Trinidad and escapes the deadly clutches of Cazalla, leaving plenty of carnage in his wake. But his troubles have just begun. . .

via Amazon

I have never read Michael Crichton. I’ve never even seen Jurassic Park, for obvious reasons. (I was two when it came out.) So Pirate Latitudes caught my eye not because it was Michael Crichton’s last novel, but because it promised a very simple thing–swashbuckling, and lots of it. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone- finally read some of his work and relax with piratical adventure. (In fact, this sounds like the sort of thing to gargle with after a book I didn’t like.)

Alyce from At Home With Books compares it to Ocean’s Eleven, making me want to read it immediately, but also notes it takes its sweet time setting up. Alita at alita.reads. enjoyed it, but notes that it could have been polished a bit more. I’m a bit disconcerted to learn that Pirate Latitudes is a huge departure for Michael Crichton, so this probably isn’t my best introduction him–but it still sounds like something I want to read.

Pirate Latitudes was released November 24, 2009.

2 thoughts on “The Literary Horizon: The Difference Engine, Pirate Latitudes

  1. If you’re just starting out with Michael Crichton, I agree that Pirate Latitudes probably isn’t the best place to start. I’d recommend trying Sphere or even Jurassic Park. Timeline is another good one, although the movie was awful. It’s about people who go back to medieval times, but still does have that scientific aspect that most of his books have. Pirate Latitudes really is a huge departure from his other books, but if you do read it, I hope you enjoy the adventure that’s in there!

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