And on with the Victorian historical characters! This is mostly a graphic novel. I bought it for the adult graphic novel section, though there’s nothing inappropriate for kids in it, because it has a lot of footnotes and they are dense, and also because I only get to buy the adult graphic novels at the library. I’ve been a fan of Padua’s web comics for years, and really, really wanted to make sure we got this.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. Pantheon Books, 2015.
In real life, Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, the daughter of doomed romantic poet Lord Byron, had a brilliant mind which was lost to the world far too soon, as she died in her early forties. While she lived, she corresponded with Charles Babbage, inventor of the first proto-computer, helping him refine his ideas and figuring out new uses for it. But she died, and Babbage was too wrapped up in theoretical improvements to his plans ever to actually complete his devices. So much for real life.
In fiction, however, there is no need for things to follow these paths. In The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, Padua has created what she calls a “pocket universe” in which Lovelace does not die. Instead, she goes on to help Babbage complete his Analytical Engine, and the two of them work together to fight crime, especially in the form of poetry and street musicians. Babbage is full of good ideas and so much self-importance that he frequently shoots himself in the foot; Ada tries sometimes more successfully than others to rescue him from himself. Padua has clearly done tons of research into this, so that while the stories are fictional, the most hilarious parts of the already funny stories comes when she has the characters speaking in their own real-life words, drawn from their correspondence and memoirs. (We know this because of the ample footnotes, which are hilarious in their own right and well worth reading.)
Many other famous characters of the day truthfully appear, owing the circle of English intellectuals at the time being so very small and tightly connected. Some modern humor is included as well, such as this: Queen Victoria comes to get a tour of the amazing Analytical Engine. She is not amused by the large numbers (useful as they were to science at the time), so Ada quickly jumps into the machine and rigs it to print out a cat picture made up of various characters.
This is one that felt so much like it might have been written just for me that it’s hard to nail down who else might like it, though my love definitely enjoyed it and my son was begging us to read it to him as well. Definitely anyone interested in Victorian history, steampunk, or (most obscurely) the history of computers should enjoy this.