Hilarious, smart and undoubtedly the most comprehensively geeky graphic novel I’ve ever encountered, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is already one of my favourite books of the year.
What’s it about?
Charles Babbage was the genius inventor of the Difference Engine, often credited as being the first computer. Ada Lovelace was the troubled daughter of Lord Byron, a mathematical genius, and the self-titled “Fairy Lady” who wrote proto-programmes for Babbage’s proto-computer, and helped him problem solve problems in the machine’s plans.
In the real world, Ada Lovelace died of cancer aged 36 and Babbage’s plans for his Difference Engine were never fully realised. In the mind of comic creator Sydney Padua they lived on, created their machine, and battled the problems of Victorian Britain (as well as a few of their own demons).
Who’s it for?
Whether you’re a lover of science, history, graphic novels or, like me, all three, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with this smart and hilarious series of comics.
It’s beautifully drawn, with gloriously goofy panels that crackle with an energy I never expect in a comic about a Victorian engineer and mathematician.
What’s more, despite being set in a parallel universe and narrating entirely fictional tales, you could probably write several solid essays based on this book. Not only are Padua’s tales frequently allegories for Victorian (and present day) social and mathematical issues, her footnotes and endnotes are extensive. They’re also hilarious.
Is it any good?
This project started out as a short web comic illustrating the life of Ada Lovelace. However, Sydney Padua was so saddened by the undeserving end to their tale that she threw in some fanciful “in an alternate universe” panels at the end. It was these that set a few nerdier portions of the internet ablaze with speculation and excitement and, in response to popular demand, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage was born.
Given that she never intended to write this comic, it’s amazing just how good it is. A big part of that is surely down to the passion Padua developed for her subjects, a passion that frequently drove her to extreme sessions in the British Library, “trying to glean usable jokes from technical articles in the Annals of the History of Computing”.
It’s not just her enthusiasm and painstaking research that make this book stand out though. Every panel a beautiful interplay between history, maths, playful comic-book narratives and meta commentaries.
Heck, even the footnotes are used to the fullest! Engaging directly with the panels in several instances, Padua’s footnotes bounce around playful, clever and consistently interesting fact nuggets. Occasionally they even engage directly with the panels and their inhabitants. I honestly can’t think of another time I’ve enjoyed footnotes this much.
A unique, fun and totally addictive graphic novel, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is a must-read for any self-respecting geek out there.