The Commonplace Book: A Novelette

But surely you have seen the decline of those entertainments,” Adelaide said, addressing Max with more than four words at a go for the first time that night. “Is it not to be assumed that people, no matter their vulgarity, will naturally be more attracted to the new thing than the old?”
“Perhaps it is the old thing that has neglected them,” Willoughby responded ably. “Perhaps when the makers of those entertainments see what is possible, it will spur them to new action. Of curious blends, or knowing returns to form. Lantern films which comment on the fact of lantern films themselves. There is no end to creativity, Lady Babbage. There is no development in art which rules out the art that came before. There is only…”

She nodded. “Translation.”

From Tor’s introduction:

“The Commonplace Book” concerns certain social and technological developments in New York’s sixth Borough of Lytton, a timeless locale facing great change at the hands of new motion picture technology and the advent of machine intelligence. And, most of all, from inventors and iconoclasts Lady Adelaide Babbage and Mr Maximilian Willoughby, struggling in parallel with a hopeless inability to conform in fashion or manner to the standards of the day, and the construction of identity in the face of the knowledge that the creation of AI is—like any other art—also the creation of self.

The first piece of short fiction by popular Television Without Pity writer Jacob Clifton is like nothing we’ve ever read, a piece of postmodern steampunk encompassing past, present, and future all at once.
Read it for free at, download Jill Smith’s beautiful audio, or send it straight to your Kindle.

Reviews for The Commonplace Book
Exquisitely well written… The setting is original and interesting, but the greater strengths of the story are the characters, and the author’s masterful use of language. I’m looking forward to Jacob Clifton’s next story. —Sean Harty
How can I explain a story that blends the old with the new so well it feels as if actually happened? But in truth it really hasn’t. It is all about translation and how it is perceived in this Tor short. It was interesting to see the socially awkward Adelaide try to understand others’ motives. All the while trying to decipher and teach her machines to communicate, and freely think too.
If I could sum this up for interested readers, I’d say it’s in the style of “Steampunk Austen.” It has set-up that encompasses the workings of more advanced mechanicals, but along with the banter play found in a Jane Austen-influenced novel. All rolled up into a story where the central woman is unsure about love, and looks at the uncertain world too analytically. I wonder now if Ada may have created a new future with her collaborated work? —Kate
Reviews from old white guys for The Commonplace Book
Silly but cute. Even if you like Jane Austin, this may seem opaque. If you don’t, it’s sure to be a waste of time. —Ron
This bit of nonsence may be the worst thing I’ve ever read in my life. —Mike

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