Charles Babbage, once described as “a logarithmetical Frankenstein,” was an eccentric Victorian inventor who is widely credited with inventing the first computer, although it was never built in his lifetime. Ada Lovelace, the daughter of mad, bad, and dangerous Lord Byron, was an exceptionally talented mathematician widely credited with creating the first computer programs, although she had no computer on which to run them.
Babbage died a bitter man, offended that the British government never funded his “Analytical Engine.” Lovelace met an even unhappier end, bankrupting herself at the horse races and dying at the age of 36. That’s the history. But wait!
In this alternate history graphic novel, animator and cartoonist Sydney Padua brings Lovelace, Babbage, and the Analytical Engine thundering back to life for adventures in a steampunk London. History, mathematics, gears and cogwheels, bad puns, and Boolean logic jokes mingle in this thoroughly geeky appreciation of computing history’s early days. There are cameos by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, who presides over the invention of the lolcat; Luddites; a 19th-century version of the oh-so-helpful Microsoft paper clip; and that cigar-chomping, rock star engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The graphic novel is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster itself, a comic adventure stitched together with anecdotes of Victorian mathematics and computer science excavated from period letters and publications. Padua meant to post just one web comic about Lovelace, but her research led her down a rabbit hole that first became the blog 2dgoggles and later transmogrified into this book. There’s no straight-line narrative; you’ll flip back and forth between the comic panels and the extensive, no, really extensive footnotes1 , which explore historical Babbage and Lovelace’s lives and writings. An appendix concludes with diagrams of Babbage’s steam-powered calculating monstrosity.
1 I don’t just mean that this comic has footnotes, I mean that the footnotes have endnotes2.
2 And the endnotes also have footnotes.
Both the book and the blog are particularly recommended for fans of Kate Beaton’s Hark, A Vagrant! and others who enjoy tongue-in-cheek history with lots of all caps and exclamation points.
Check the WRL catalog for The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.