Lovelace and Babbage

20 April 2015



If you’re not familiar with Lovelace and Babbage, Sydney Padua‘s delight-filled webcomic, rejoice! It has now made the transition to print (US/UK). You can pick up a doorstop of brilliant Victoriana-flavoured geeky humour, historically painstaking footnoting, and lovely art – and you should do so IMMEDIATELY.


Let me just acknowledge right now that I’m not even trying to be objective: Sydney’s comic always hit the sweet spot of my sense of how the world ought to be. Her riff on the (factually rather grim) story of Lovelace and Babbage and their not-quite creation of the computer in the 1800s is brain jazz. It’s filled with digressions, anachronisms and sketch protrayals of famous Victorians, all riven through with an ebullient goofiness. This is history as I wish it was: bright, caring and full of zing. It’s also the modern world through a Padua prism, with jokes about Twitter and Venn diagrams sprinkled into the dialogue. That said, there’s also a truth here, as you can immediately see if you dip into Babbage’s own writing: Sydney’s portrayal of him as a Dickensian steam-age petrolhead with cranky uncle basenotes is spot on, and Lovelace – whose true historical upbringing was like something from a Warren Ellis comic about the Fascist precursors of the Superman concept – was every bit as quirky.


There’s something else going on, too, which is worth mentioning: this is a book about the creative process and the creative mind, with its fancies and magpie distractability, its excitements and sloughs of despond. I recognise the protagonists in myself and my friends and family, just as I do when I read Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing or G H Hardy’s remarkable A Mathematician’s Apology. Creativity varies in its output according to any number of personality traits, but the process seems to be remarkably similar across disciplines: great artists, great activists, great poets, and great scientists share a veering perpendicular humour, and it’s alive here, in this book.


That’s why I ran around like a four year old yesterday after Sydney dropped in my copy: because this book is full of life. Go. Get it.

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