I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with history - and the future: Sybil Gerard - dishonored woman and daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward "Leviathan" Mallory - explorer and paleontologist; Laurence Oliphant - diplomat and spy. Their adventure begins with the discovery of a box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for...
As many others have pointed out, this book is one of the first in what we now know as the Steampunk genre. It explores the question of what would happen if the Industrial Revolution and the development of the computer had coincided—what would Victorian society have looked like?
It’s a complex novel, with a lot of layers. I read most of it in airports and on planes and didn’t have the best circumstances to be able to concentrate on those details. On the other hand, if it had been really riveting, I wouldn’t have noticed my surroundings, so I apparently didn’t find it all that compelling.
I appreciated the re-structuring of British society, from being run by the blue-blooded to being administered by the scientific. It was nice to see paleontologists and poets being recognized for their skills and not just dismissed as soft science or whimsy. And there must always be a resistance movement, which was well realized and sported realistic details, in my opinion.
The story frequently got bogged down in the details, however, and then just eventually petered out, leaving me disappointed. After a strong start, the weakness of the ending was a let down.
Book number 269 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading project.