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The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (2015)
Sydney Padua
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for young adults and math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors).

This graphic novel starts out as a basically realistic fictionalized biography of the 19th century mathematicians Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, even if it is a biography with a snarky sense of humor. For example, consider this page on which Lovelace first comprehends Babbage's and announces that she's going to "Tweet" about it:

IMHO When she starts typing away before she realizes that the object in her hand is not a smart phone but a fan, this is not merely a silly joke but a hint that Lovelace had a sense of potential importance of computing machines. The graphic novel includes many actual quotes from these two historical figures and copious footnotes.

Then, it takes off in another direction as it considers an alternate universe where their achievements were even greater than they were in this one: they actually build the analytical engine and use it to address various anachronistic problems, from a strangely familiar financial crisis to a 19th century version of auto-correct. Mathematicians William Rowan Hamilton, Charles Dodgson and George Boole make cameo appearances.

The laws of physics in this other universe are humorously described on one spread, justifying the black and white images and temporal anomalies in terms of a limitation on information and wobbly Gödelian time-like loops. The "E" in the equation "E=mc2" in that pocket universe refers to "Entertainment", and since Lovelace and Babbage are the most entertaining beings in it, they are also the "massiest" (sic). Even though this does not make much sense and Padua admits that she doesn't even fully understand the terminology she is using, I found its "E" value to be very high, indeed.

The "two cultures" is a major theme of the work, with young Ada's mother educating her in mathematics as a sort of vaccination against any of her father's tendencies. (Her father, of course, being the poet Lord Byron.) The tension continues into her adult life, as in this scene which addresses the question of which side of the art/science dichotomy one would find music:

This steam punk graphic novel has won praise from some readers who insist that the author/artist is herself a genius, but received only a tepid review from the New York Times which considered it too silly. Personally, I thought it was fantastic, both entertaining and informative. If, like me, you read this book and still want more, be sure to check out the additional comics and commentary at Padua's Website.

Contributed by Hauke Reddmann

First of all, it's kind of uncool that this Webcomic is now available on dead trees. Steam-powered Kindle would rule!

Otherwise, I have only the highest praise for "Lovelace&Babbage". The stories are hilarious (the best are the footnotes, like as it were with the late Sir Terry Pratchett) and the author invents only an epsilon (we have to stay mathematically correct). And if she ever invents, the Cosmic Giggle Factor ((c) Robert A. Wilson) regularly runs into an old document in some forgotten newspaper proving her right after all. Yes, ill-willed folks could even claim her humor is scholarly - if you ever saw a scholar drawing comics peppered with a hailstorm of gruesome puns.

The author merely changed the fact that Babbages Engines were never built - shame on you, Real Universe. Otherwise historically correct, this semi-hemi-demi-biographically comic features larger-than-life characters, starring Babbage as Slighty Mad Scientist, Lovelace as a Victorian Vampirella (you rarely will find such a strong female lead elsewhere) and cameos of all the science elite, with a special mention of Isambard Kingdom "Why does everybody keeps calling me Wolverine?" Brunel. Strongly recommended.

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Works Similar to The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Conceiving Ada by Lynn Hershman-Leeson
  2. The Difference Engine by William Gibson / Bruce Sterling
  3. Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
  4. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  5. The Visiting Professor by Robert Littell
  6. Doing our Babbage by Ira Slobodien
  7. The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke / Frederik Pohl
  8. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  9. Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis / Christos Papadimitriou
  10. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
Ratings for The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
3.33/5 (3 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.67/5 (3 votes)

GenreMystery, Humorous, Science Fiction, Adventure/Espionage,
MotifReal Mathematicians, Female Mathematicians,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Real Mathematics, Mathematical Finance,
MediumComic Book,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)