Unfinished: The difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

It’s rare that I don’t finish a book. But several different people have reminded me lately that life is too short to spend time on unworthy books. And so I will have to add a new type of review to my repertoire: Books I didn’t finish.

The first, but not the last, I’m sure, is The Difference Engine. I usually enjoy William Gibson, and I thought it might be fun to read some steampunk. I’m not familiar with Bruce Sterling. But evidently when you put the two of them together you get something very hard to read. The novel meanders about. There’s a plot, but it’s almost as if the characters just don’t care.

We have an entire section of the book that comes about simply because the main character gets a case of the stupids (he normally quite bright–a scientist, no less) and leaves his bodyguard in the middle of a riot and goes off seeking female companionship (Didn’t much care for that either) simply so that he can have to wander back the next morning through the post-riot wasteland.

I got as far as where the book might start getting interesting, but I found I just don’t care. I flipped ahead, and it appears the main character won’t even be in the novel for much longer. I’m sorry, I wanted to like this book, but I can’t. I like my stories to have a point, and I’m not seeing one here. I’m not even seeing the promise of one. The setting is cool, but not cool enough. Meanwhile we’re dragged through a story that could have been told in a third of the space, while the rest is filled up with mindless detail. I’m glad they did their research on Victorian England. Why did they have to dump every bit of it into the novel?

Unfortunately Gibson is rapidly sinking in my estimation. I’ve read one novel of his where he knocks it out of the park, and two that were only so-so. This one threatens to capsize the brand for me. Do I only like Gibson via audio-book when it’s read by a reader who gets his phrasing?

Sorry gentlemen, but I must move on without you.

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