George Alec Effinger

What Entropy Means to Me

by George Alec Effinger has the honor of being one the weirdest books I've read in months. The narrator is Seyt, the official biographer of his eldest brother Dore, and a member of an absurdly large family. The story switches constantly between Seyt's scrapes with family politics (his elder brother and sister respectively are leading schismatic factions of their family religion, based on worship of their missing parents) and his made-up story about what happened to Dore after he set off in search of his Father. They (the father and mother) apparently were the first, accidental colonists upon this planet, and there they begat dozens of children and established themselves as the rulers of all subsequent colonists. The stories unfold on several levels at once; all is very nicely handled. It reminds me of Tristram Shandy, from which the frontspiece quotation is taken.

%T What Entropy Means to Me
%A Effinger, George Alec
%I Signet
%D 1972
%G no ISBN
%P 188pp.
%K sf experimental


Those Gentle Voices; A Promethean Romance of the Spaceways

(Warner Books, 1976)

When I opened to the first page and saw the caption "Part II" I figured I was in for some spiffy narrative gymnastics as in What Entropy Means to Me. Well, I won't spoil surprises by telling you anything about Part I, except that it not too surprisingly happens first and is placed last, but the overall narrative structure is much more straightforward than I expected.

The events of the story, however, are more than odd. Part II opens with what seems a clichéd, dated situation: a bank of clunky minicomputers (in 1988) processing SETI and other radio astronomy data to find evidence of extraterrestrial life that mightn't have been noticed or correlated yet. It rapidly gets better, however. This part features some cool descriptions of his setting in New Orleans and other parts of southern Louisiana, where the Center for Coordinated Astrometrics is located.

Part III, as you might have guessed from the book's subtitle, opens with an exploratory sleeper ship in 2021 approaching Wolf 359, from which orderly radio signals had been noticed back in 1988. The crew, who on Earth had been putting on a let's-get-along-together act for the mission psychologists, soon reveal on awaking that they loathe each other. They find intelligent life, but apparently not civilized enough to have built the radio beacon that Earth detected awhile ago. Unfortunately the crew are too busy quarreling with one another and, in some cases, trying to become a god of the primitive natives, to make any progress in figuring out this discrepancy. Once they start interacting with the natives, the real fun begins (for the reader, anyhow); beyond this I'll give no spoilers, but to say that what happens in the next chapters amply repays any annoyance the reader might have felt at the clichéd situations of the first two parts.



Other good books by Effinger, which I'll probably review when I read them again, are his Marîd series: so far When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss. A fourth, The Word of Night, is in progress or forthcoming; he read the first two chapters of it at DragonCon in 1995 and 1996. These are remarkable for their portrayal of a Moslem-dominated future, with many convincing (to me, anyway, who am not an expert on Islam nor ignorant of't) characters. He's written many more books, but these are the only ones I've been able to find.
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