Signal & Noise is the epic page-turning story of the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable, and the men and women who are caught in its monumental tide. It is also a novel about the collision of worlds seen and unseen: the present and the future; the living and the dead; the real and the imagined.
On a wet London morning in 1857, American engineer Chester Ludlow arrives on the muddy banks of the Isle of Dogs to witness the launch of the largest steamship ever built, the Great Eastern. Also amidst the tumultuous throng is Jack Trace, a lonely bachelor and sketch artist hoping to make his name as an illustrator and journalist in the hurly burly of Fleet Street. Other witnesses include a drunken German by the name of Marx; the child who will christen the massive vessel by the wrong name; and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the ships apoplectic and dwarfish architect who will soon die in ignominy. As chief engineer for the Atlantic Cable Company, the charismatic Chester enters the orbit of business and showmanship embodied by J. Beaumol Spude, the bombastic Western beef magnate who will mastermind the funding of the project; Joachim Lindt, creator of the Phantasmagorium, an animated tableaux vivant; and his beautiful wife, the musician Katerina Lindt. Drawn by the demands and adventure of creating the first transoceanic telegraph, Chester leaves behind his fragile wife, Franny, at the family estate of Willing Mind in Maine.
Abandoned and still mourning the accidental death of their four-year-old daughter, Franny finds solace in the company of Chesters troubled brother, Otis, who introduces her to the mysteries of the world of spiritualism just as séancing is becoming all the rage in the jittery times leading up to the Civil War. As Chester achieves renown as the glamorous engineer of the trans-Atlantic project, Franny, desperate to contact her dead child, becomes the preeminent spirit conjuror of a war-torn America.
THE LUDLOW GUN
Pittsburgh, Autumn 1862
At the Forge
Rails suspended overhead, from which black chains hung like jungle vines that clattered through their blocks, making a tooth-rattling noise, a noise like the jabbering of a thousand jawbones in a thousand skulls. The huge reverberatory furnace emitting a churning sound of combustion and refraction; the coke, brought in by the cartload, burning; the steam-driven McKenzie bellows outside the four-story building pushing a quarter acre of flame over the molten metal inside the furnace; the smoke bounding up the chimneys in huge, endless clots to fill the valley's sky.
A man moved along a catwalk up by the clerestory, opening the sooty, hinged windows with a wooden pole. The black sky, upwind of the furnace stacks, was lustrous with stars. The man up on the gallery walk wore a protective leather mask across his nose and mouth. His head was swathed in rags wrapped in such a way as to resemble a turban. The rags had been ...
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