I had wanted to read The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling for some time. It is widely regarded as one of the first novels to bear the description “steampunk” when it was published in 1990, and rightly so, as the book contains many of the themes and plot devices that have become common in steampunk literature.
The novel takes place in an England in which Charles Babbage has succeeded in building his mechanical computer—the “Difference Engine” of the title, although the machine more resembles his more advanced “Analytical Engine”. This event serves as the catalyst to careen the world off onto another timeline, and the authors imagine all the consequences and consequences of consequences that occur to change British society. For example, the anti-technology Tory party loses a national election, prompting the prime minister, Lord Wellington, to stage a coup to retain power. In the subsequent counter revolution, the Radical party comes into power and replaces the hereditary House of Lords with peerages awarded to savants for scientific merit.