A friend gave me this book for my birthday last October. At the time I didn’t look too closely at it and assumed it was a typical nonfiction book. While I am interested in the subject, non-fiction tends to be lower on my priority list, so it got shelved with my TBR and we moved on to cake and board games. Last month I wasn’t able to write my review for The Bear and the Nightingale right away so thought it would be best to read something completely different and remembered this book. Once I picked it up and cracked the cover I was pleasantly surprised that this is a graphic novel. A graphic novel with more footnotes and end notes than I have ever seen in any book!
The author and artist is Sydney Padua, who in her day job is an animator and visual effects artist. She created a brief web comic about Lovelace, Babbage and the analytical engine. Ada Lovelace died tragically young at 36 due to cancer. Sydney finished the comic with imagining what might have been in an alternate universe had Lovelace lived, Babbage ever finished any of his calculating machines, and what adventures they might have had together. The next morning she woke up to find that her little comic had sparked the internet’s interest and that no one had realized the alternate ending was a joke. At that time she didn’t have any intention of writing Lovelace and Babbage adventure comics. Now she is an Eisner Award nominee for both Best New Graphic Work and Best Writer/Artist. Without knowing her competition I’d saw she deserves awards in both categories for this brilliant book.
This book is fascinating, beautifully drawn, and informative. I couldn’t stop giving anecdotes about history to everyone I came across while reading it. For instance did you know that Ada was the only legitimate daughter of the infamous poet Lord Byron and that her daughter is responsible for about 90% of the Arabian horses currently in Europe and North America? Only a tiny fraction of information is contained in the panels. Seriously, this book may contain more footnotes and end notes than it does actual comic panels and I wouldn’t want it any other way. FYI according to reviews on Amazon this is really best enjoyed in hardcover as the notes are difficult to read in e-formats.
The book starts with a fairly straightforward autobiography of Ada the Countess of Lovelace. Though frequently referred to as Ada Lovelace that is incorrect as Lovelace was her title not name. Ada’s mother insisted on her learning mathematics as a way to keep her away from the poison that was poetry and her father’s wild ways. In 1833 Ada was at a gathering at Charles Babbage’s home when she and Charles Babbage discovered they were kindred spirits, as Ada not only understood the workings of a fragment of difference engine he had in his parlor but saw beauty in it. That meeting in his parlor begat a friend and partnership that lasted as long as her tragically short life. Babbage was a man weighed down by his own genius. After being given large grants from the British government to create his difference engine, Babbage realizes that he can create a different machine that will be superior. Abandoning work on the difference engine to create the analytical engine, and then abandoning that when a better idea came along, meant that he never completed any of his brilliant ideas in his lifetime.
The vast majority of the book is imagined adventures the pair might have gone on in a pocket dimension of the multi-verse. In this pocket dimension all sorts of historical characters intermingle in and out of the period in which we find them in our dimension, making for a fantastical tale. Marian Evans, perhaps better known as George Eliot, has an adventure inside the machine chasing after one of her manuscripts. Sydney also painstakingly researched the analytical engine (different from the difference engine of which a working prototype was built in 2000) and produces incredible diagrams explaining how it would have actually worked.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. The comics are entertaining and the historical information fascinating. I sincerely hope that a second volume is forth coming.