Sunday, September 16, 2012

Brunel + Babbage = Brabbage?

     In my earlier post on "A Pre-Steampunk Novel," I asked "Who is 'Brabbage'?"
      I noted that in A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! by Harry Harrison, mention is made of  a "Brabbage engine," which sounded suspiciously like Charles Babbage's difference engine and/or analytical engine, often referenced in steampunk novels. "So," I wrote, "my question is did Harrison simply misspell Babbage’s name? Is this just a typo in the edition of the novel I bought? Or did Harrison deliberately change the name for some reason?"

      Then, while reading another book with a steampunk slant (Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway which I shall review soon. It has some similarities and affinities to K.W. Jeter's Infernal Devices, as well as the works of China Mieville), I saw reference to "Brunel and Babbage." In Transatlantic Tunnel, the father of Gus Washington's fiance and the former chief engineer on the tunnel project is named Isambard Kingdom Brassey-Brunel.  An earlier, historical Isambard Kingdom Brunel is an important and innovative engineer who, among other things, tried to build a tunnel beneath the Thames.
     Brunel (1806-1859) was a good deal more practical than Babbage (1791-1871), and it seems possible that Harrison was suggesting that if the two men had worked together, Babbage's computers might have become reality, or that later engineers and scientists could have looked to both their inventions and come up with a hybrid or combination of them to produce working computers. In either case, the resulting machines might have been dubbed "Brabbage" engines in their honor. It's a possibility, at least. If anyone has any thoughts or facts, please let me know.


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