Title: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage
Author: Sydney Padua
Genre: Graphic novel
There were some things I really liked about this book but on the whole I’m not sure how well it worked for me. First, Padua has done her research and it shows. My favorite part of the books were the footnotes, which were fun, informative, and thorough. The information wasn’t just about Lovelace and Babbage but about the Victorian era, other personalities, math, the history of math. They were really fun to read and I think I would have liked a book composed entirely of her footnotes and endnotes. I liked her art too, though. It was expressive, cute, and creative.
What I didn’t like about this book was the “graphic novel” part. Basically the comic/story that came after page 28. There are about 16 pages of “nonfiction” biography about Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. But Lovelace died young and Babbage never made his computing engines. So Padua decided it would be more exciting to imagine an alternate universe where they were able to build the machine and come up with “adventures” for them to have. The problem for me was that I did not like this alternate universe. The adventures were boring or confusing. After a while I stopped even trying to read the comic and just read the footnotes and the endnotes, which made up the vast majority of the words in the book and stayed nonfiction even as the story veered into strange and unappealing territory–what if Queen Victoria visited? what if George Eliot dropped by to have her book analyzed and then got lost inside the engine? what if the Duke of Wellington made them use the machine to help the economy? These imaginary scenarios held no interest for me, did not seem well plotted, and were pretty tedious. It’s really unfortunate because I thoroughly enjoyed those 16 pages I mentioned earlier about the actual Lovelace and Babbage, and I continued to enjoy the footnotes throughout. They were much more interesting than the story.
Padua obviously put a lot of work into this book. I admire her scholarship. The information she presented about Victorian personalities and history, math, and the history of math and computing were especially fascinating, and the biographical details of Babbage and Lovelace were amusing. I liked her tone, her energy, her perspective, and I appreciated so much the inclusion of some of her primary sources (and information on where to get more–she has a great bibliography). It is quite impressive and I really want to recognize that. Unfortunately for me, she took all my favorite things about the book and turned them into the footnotes to a rather dull and uninteresting story instead of making them the story and illustrating more cohesively all the information she imparts in the footnotes and endnotes. If she ever uses her great creative and research skills to write a book that is not an alternate-universe steampunk fantasy–and I hope she does–I am definitely hunting it down and reading it.