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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

What Entropy Means to Me

George Alec Effinger

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To purchase What Entropy Means to Me

Title: What Entropy Means to Me
Author: George Alec Effinger
Genre: Novel
Written: 1972
Length: 188 pages
Availability: What Entropy Means to Me - US
What Entropy Means to Me - UK
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from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : neatly done

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       What Entropy Means to Me is narrated by Seyt, the tenth-oldest male in the First family on a planet simply called Home. Seyt's account is a written one, and he describes the writing of it as he goes along, including the reactions of some of his other family member, notably younger sister Lalichë. He gets real-time feedback -- at times he has an audience: "They follow my pen across the page like the spectators at a very slow tennis match" --, and so, for example:

     Lalichë is reading this as I write; she suggests that I am subconsciously introducing an overtly phallic symbol here. I don't think so. Fore me to have Dore meet and overcome a symbol of masculinity would be to metaphorically castrate our sacred brother. We wouldn't want Ateichál to red that; she always dug Dore's body. (Now Lalichë implies that the symbol is of my putative virility, not Dore's. A lot she knows, five years old.)
       Other reaction is slightly delayed: the second chapter opens: "The reviews are in !" as Seyt reports on older brother Yord's review in the local Times-Register, an offset newsletter "distributed free of charge to members of our household, but [....] also available at a nominal cost to foreign households", of his first efforts.
       The family wound up on Home after being hounded from Earth for the debts they had racked up. 'Our Father' and 'Our Mother' managed to sign on a mission to deliver a shipment of remaindered and used books to an: "outlet on a far-flung-planet", but things didn't work out quite as planned and they landed on Home, as its first settlers -- though soon followed by others. As the First family they, however, remained top of the heap in a hierarchically structured world: "we enjoy eminence over all others on Home [...] down to the poorest of the Sixties and Seventies".
       The story Seyt is writing is a traditional quest tale -- that of Dore, the first-born (and the only one of the children born on Earth), "an historically imperative event". 'Our Father' was taken by the River -- the one he called the Allegheny, after the one on Earth, though everyone else calls it the River of Life -- and Dore is sent out on a mission:
a mission to the end of the River. A mission to the end of existence, to the end of time, to the end of everything there could be.
       Off he goes -- soon with new-found sidekick Glorian of the Knowledge -- with Seyt chronicling his adventures, many of which are like those one might expect in quest tales of medieval-yore. (Home is not particularly technologically advanced -- this isn't techno-science fiction.)
       What Entropy Means to Me shifts smoothly between backstory -- mostly about the family and its members --, the story of Dore's adventures, and the present-time description of the writing of that story (and the various family members having their say about that). So, for example, halfway through, Seyt writes:
     I had planned for the end of this section a longish essay on the problem of writing, much like Henry James's Preface to The Portrait of a Lady . After all, I am in a peculiar position; I must detail a quest about which I know nothing, and therefore I fashion fiction. (What a play of words there. Mylevelane, Tere, do you notice ?) But insofar as I deal with real people and places I am constrained to limit my imagination.
       Seyt comes to discover that: "in the best literature everything means something else", and this multilayered work certainly suggests reading on many different levels. The playful mix is both very modern but also leans heavily on the traditional -- so also in many of the stops along Dore's quest echoing familiar fantastical characters, situations, and confrontations found in literature across the centuries. The denouement of Dore's quest also doesn't disappoint -- and, yes, entropy does eventually come into it.
       Although Seyt, for example, appeals to the reader, that: "you must be patient while I learn to juggle plot and charm", he has a good handle on things.
       It makes for an engaging read. A lot here is done exceptionally well and the tone, especially, feels just right. It is a bit much to sustain over the length of a novel, especially after a very strong beginning, but this is a very impressive variation on the science fiction/fantasy novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 July 2023

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Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author George Alec Effinger lived 1947 to 2002.

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© 2023 the complete review

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