Off the Shelf: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First ComputerThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After having read The Case of the Missing Moonstone, Sydney Padua’s book came recommended to me through Goodreads/Amazon. Luckily, I have a fondness for good alternate histories & I was up for some more fun with Ada Lovelace & her cohorts. This graphic novel is a series of stories that takes place in a pocket universe after a silly time traveler reveals some future secrets to our heroes Lovelace & Babbage. We end up with Steampunk Victorian England, where there are gears on everything & time is, well, a little wonky. Lovelace & Babbage not only bring their collaborations to fruition by building a steam-powered computer, they get into all sorts of hijinks like creating the first cat meme for the Queen, solve a banking crisis & (my personal favorite) destroy the manuscripts of contemporary authors in order to study & purify language. (Guys, seriously, it’s the best story: George Eliot & Ada Lovelace face-off & recite Latin at one another, Babbage talks like David Foster Wallace in his story “Here and There” & cats are everywhere. It’s awesomesauce!)

This is not your typical comic–there are extensive footnotes everywhere & Padua integrates them into the story with comedic effect. She has researched her subjects extensively & the effort shows both in her clever writing & her numerous annotations. Padua’s art also, to me, evokes the best of Will Eisner’s whimsy & Aubrey Beardsley’s heavy black linework while maintaining its own distinct look. Lovelace and Babbage is informative & playful and proves Padua is equal to the likes of Kate Beaton & Randall Munroe. My only critique is that this collection works as individual stories exploring different aspects of the Victorian era, but they don’t cohere to a specific ending. But this is explainable through the way the pocket universe is created–no endings are entirely possible there. Excellent nerdy fun for those with any interest in the Victorian age, math, history, literature or artistic reinterpretations.

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