Sep 23

A GM Reads: The Difference Engine


My revised reading challenge for 2017 is to focus on what a GM can take from the books I read. I lift out characters, events, creatures, plots or themes from each book. As a GM, you still need to read the book to gain the most benefit, but each review brings a few ideas for the GM.


I am not gaming today, so I have time to clear another review from the backlog. The latest book under the spotlight is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It is described on the Good Reads website as follows:


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 – dishonoured woman and daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward “Leviathan” Mallory – explorer and palaeontologist; 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…

Part detective story, part historical thriller, The Difference Engine is the first collaborative novel by two of the most brilliant and controversial science fiction authors of our time. Provocative, compelling, intensely imagined, it is a startling extension of Gibson’s and Sterling’s unique visions – in a new and totally unexpected direction!


Read more about The Difference Engine at Good Reads


Along with reading a selection of new books, I also enjoy revisiting the books I already own. I enjoyed reading The Difference Engine again, although the setting appealed more than the plot. The characters were engaging, but the story seemed to have gaps in places.



For the GM

The greatest appeal of The Difference Engine for a GM is the quality of the setting. This is a brilliant vision of steampunk Victorian London, littered with familiar names and events, re-imagined into a compelling alternate history. Not only does the book serve as a brilliant setting for a steampunk game, but also as a master class in building an alternate history campaign.


The last 28 pages of the book are a selection of letters and articles lifted from the setting of the book. Many are too long to be copied out easily, but the style of these in-world documents is another superb example for GMs. These handouts reference and inform the central story in interesting ways. Careful study of this section of the book will enhance the quality of your Player handouts.



Happy Reading



2 pings

  1. […] The next GM Reads was The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling […]

  2. […] The previous GM Reads was The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling […]

Leave a Reply