Stewart Hotston, The Entropy of Loss, NewCon Press, 2022.
In this scifi novella, Hotston explores with delicacy the themes of grief and first contact.
Sarah's wife, Rhona, is dying of cancer. When Sarah's experiment at work leads to an unexplainable phenomenon, Rhona wants to see it. One last marvel to see, to experience. They both arrive at the lab, where they meet with Akshai, Sarah's assistant. But things go wrong.
Hotston's novella is a variation on a theme also explored in "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, among others. Nonetheless, The Entropy of Loss is very much its own story, particularly thanks to the characters.
Sarah is a complicated character. She is dealing with the very peculiar grief that cancer brings, when you see people dying, slowly, in pain. Sarah has done her best for Rhona, but she has also made some bad choices. She is the one who brings Rhona to the lab with everything that will follow. To put it simply, Sarah is a bundle of emotions, and Hotston describes them wonderfully, never indulging in pathos or in unrestrained anger.
The secondary characters are more quickly drawn. But Akshai in particular rang true, everything she is, the choices she makes, understandable between the lines.
A variation on a well known trope is always risky to put in the hands of someone who has read a lot of scifi. Often, the sense of awe, of surprise, is gone. But it is the execution that matters, and The Entropy of Loss weaves faultlessly together its themes and its execution.
For instance, the horror imagery Hotston uses when Sarah, Rhona and Akshai are in the lab is very striking. First because it conveys perfectly the dislocation of reality when first contact happens. But it is also an apt metaphor for Rhona's illness.
Hotston uses with a lot of originality information theories as the way to create first contact, and it is also very fitting for the theme. What remains of us after death, but information in the form of memories and mementoes?
Finally, I've particularly liked the resolution of the first contact situation, again an apt allegory of death.
The novella format is perfect for the story: it goes straight to the heart of what it wants to tell, explores the characters in a rewarding manner and keeps a lively pace.
The Entropy of Loss is a remarkable novella that hides under the action a beautiful meditation on death, loss, and how we deal with it.
Disclaimer: A free copy was received but with no obligation attached to review it. Thank you to NewCon Press for the ARC!
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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