Sydney Padua – The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

By Markus Thierstein

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Sometimes the little throw-away things have the biggest impact on your life, or your project; frequently much more than anything we’ve planned out and worked hard towards – I’m sure we’ve all been there! Sydney Padua, the author of ‘The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage *The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer’ might know this even better than most of us. She undertook to draw a very short comic, historically (mostly) accurate, about Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, and during research stumbled over the eccentric genius of Charles Babbage, and his steam powered computer.
And as she found the ending to be ‘awfully grim’ (Lovelace went off the rails like her father before her and died young and quite mad, whilst Babbage died a crabby old man who had never finished any of his marvellous calculating engines) she added an alternative one, set in a better universe. Which, to everybody else and the Internet at large, meant that she was now drawing a comic about how their lives played out if they built the Difference Engine, and went on to a life of fighting crime!

“Hundreds of pages of comics later and it’s becoming a little hard to insist, as I still do, that I am not drawing a comic called The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage”

Sydney Padua describes herself as an animator and story artist, generally employed in making giant monsters attack people for the movies. She claims that she started drawing comics by accident and is still trying to figure out how to stop (I sincerely hope she doesn’t, given how much I enjoy her output!).
I first met her, and her oeuvre, when she gave a talk on this comic at an Eastercon (UK National Science Fiction convention), which was at once highly entertaining (if you have a chance to see her speak, do so!) and hugely impressive in regards to how deeply she had delved into the background and history of her characters, but also into the actual workings of Babbage’s engines. I’ve been following her website (sydneypadual.com) where she posts all these comics (also see 2dgoogles.com) and more, and of course the book of it ever since…

And a word on the engines – Babbage essentially worked on two of them, firstly the Difference Engine which is quite limited in function and conceived to calculate mathematical tables for printing so they could be used for look-ups; and the Analytical Engine, with memory, processor, hardware, and software, allowing for programming and feedback loops – essentially a modern computer, except for being composed of cogs and levers and powered by a steam engine.
The Turing Machine is still the standard against all computers are measured, and by that standard the Analytical Engine was the first computer.
But – The Difference Engine is the sexier name, by far, and the one which caught the imagination of the public (and of course of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling in their eponymous novel!), and it’s what Babbage’s work is generally referred to as, for better or worse.

The book comes in the following structure:
Preface
Ada Lovelace: The Secret Origin!
The Pocket Universe
[A series of 8 stories set in said alternate Pocket Universe]
Appendix 1: Some Amusing Primary Documents
Appendix 2: The Analytical Engine
Epilogue

Each chapter, each story has a good number of footnotes running alongside it, plus extensive endnotes expanding on both the footnotes and the story and its characters in general. My, the research which went into this, and which got digested to be brought to us in easily absorbable and entertaining morsels!
The chapters are also chock full of anecdotes, in-jokes, and historical (and current) references, both illuminating of the story and/or entertaining to the reader. These paint a vivid picture of the protagonists and their world, on multiple levels (and that’s despite most of the events in the cartoon being fictitious!)

I’m not sure how much more to tell you without spoiling your fun of reading this yourself? All the cartoons are in black and white, and mostly in a variety of fairly classical page layouts (there are some exceptions when some of the stories get rather esoteric and imaginary, in a mathematical meaning of course.

Who should read this? Anybody loving intelligent and clever comics. Anybody interested in the history of computing. And everybody with an interest in the history, society, and the historical figures of the 19th century. And do I really need to mention Steampunk fans? Thought so…

More Sydney Padua

Title: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
Author: Sydney Padua
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Particular Books
Publisher URL: http://www.penguin.com
Publication Date: 2015
Review Date: 170716
ISBN:9780141981512
Price: USD 16.99
Pages: 315
Format: Hardback
Topic: Alternate History
Topic: Computing


Markus ThiersteinMarkus Thierstein is a former professional skater and editor for Diversebooks. These days he pretends to work for a living, and only do sport for fun. He blogs, mainly in review form, on thierstein.net.