The technical side of things... revealed!
I'm not talking about how Babbage's difference engine
worked (or might have had it been fully constructed in his lifetime) but rather am here to pass on a few anecdotes about how the Gibson/Sterling book was assembled. Assembled
, you query, don't you mean written?
Ha! For who could ever have guessed that the Difference Engine
is in fact a supreme work of postmodern pastiche
, a product of collage
technique so subtle it was never suspected?*
William Gibson says that his colleague Bruce Sterling is a genius for being among the first to savvy out use of an ordinary word processor as a sort of literary Photoshop - a tool wherein you can paste any old chunk of text among your own words and "airbrush" away the differences in styles leaving a unitary block of text in your voice you had "only" to arrange and massage without necessarily conceiving and composing. (Your writing still demands the 95% of perspiration, but I suppose you save the 5% effort of inspiration.)
So it is that all over this work (one instance was mentioned in particular - a queer object furnishing a room, more specifically a dead cactus in a wire cage, but this crime was repeated serially in dozens of places through the manuscript) are bizarre and grotesque descriptive passages directly lifted from period Victorian pulp stories, crime novels and pornography, carefully transplanted and nurtured to take root among the narrative the modern writers had provided as a potting bed.
Why appropriate these passages? It's not, after all, as if these men can't write. Laziness? Lack of potential legal ramifications? It's like this, Gibson says: after we spent three years in research poring over microfiches of 150-year-old front pages from London newspapers, we realised that we weren't going to be getting any further than we already were into the headspace of someone who actually lived at that time. Yet the authors of that era were not only alive but took notes for us! We could imagine back as much as we liked but often no amount of speculation could enable us to produce curious and peculiar little details so fitting into the period zeitgeist as those of its contemporary writers. So we cribbed their notes.
Plagiarism? Complicated with public domain status of the uncredited sources? Is this comportment acceptable in the publishing business but not in academia? (Would this sampling merit a nocturnal visit from Klaproth?) One thing's for certain: of all the grievances this work prompted from fans of the authors (why doesn't General Sam Houston have a monofilament whip? I thought you guys were science fiction authors!) these unresolved intellectual property issues are likely to remain largely unaddressed regardless of how public they're made - because lawyers and copyright statutes are just not as sexy as mirrorshades and ICE evasion 8)
* My roommate says: oh! I always thought that the book had a schizoid feel to its voice, but I chalked that up to seams showing where the two authors abutted. This new information goes a long way towards accounting for that sensation. (or words to that effect.) So perhaps people who didn't like the book were made uneasy by the symptoms of this condition rather than problems in the actual writing by the credited authors. Of course, that still doesn't satisfy the plotmongers of the moors baying for blood...