Aaron Costain’s Entropy is the type of book that begs you to never give up on it. It’s built into the story itself, which follows a humanoid’s journey through a surrealistic fable as it tries to explain itself through a variety of mythologies and theologies colliding. The humanoid’s challenge is to keep searching, even as it becomes unsure that clarity is a possibility in this or any universe, and that’s the reader’s as well. Hints are offered, but what do they mean?
You might as well ask that about any holy book, any proverb, anything designed to be illustrative of the mysteries of existence. These aids to the ultimate truth bask in their own obscurity and function in circular logic. They burst open with further mysteries. They make enlightenment into a sensation felt just before you go on a further journey, rather than at the end of one. The search for the truth is perpetual. You have to decide for yourself what constitutes its ends.
That’s the one lesson Costain’s dark humanoid can take away from his journey. Wandering around a world where, as near as anyone can tell, humanity has been wiped out by a punishing flood, while animals still exist and have either advanced into intelligent modes or continuing the same modes that have been part of human mythology forever at this point, the humanoid attempts to collate his experience through a series of origin stories that evoke the legends of numerous religions.
The flood itself, while contained in other mythologies, references Christianity pretty directly, and the humanoid is faced with not only finding an explanation for who he is and where he came from, but who his creator is, and the relationship between the force in the universe that makes things happen and the force that gets things started. Are these the same things? Are they different but related? Or do they operate without any knowledge of each other? Is creation a wholly separate action in the universe from the forward movement that creation eventually takes? And what is it when a creation duplicates itself? Is the creation now a god? Is that even the right question?
All these questions fold into themselves in Costain’s narrative as the humanoid — specifically, I should point out, described on the back cover as a golem, which makes sense, since he is made of the earth — tries to parse them out. But when another humanoid is created from our original humanoid, then the questions begin to crowd around even further and the humanoids become dependent on the explanations of other creatures to find any clarity — a bug, a cat, each with their own agendas attached to the stories they tell.
As the two humanoids continue on their journey — like Gilgamesh in a parka, with good jokes and deadpan vulgarities — events begin to mirror religious narratives as we have encountered them — being swallowed by a giant creature, for instance — but in such a way that no one trapped within the story is quite sure of what to make of them. And isn’t that what the history of religious thought is? A piling up of stories meant to thrill and clarify the explanation of something that no one really knows? Don’t all these religious stories function as a clash of fantastic experiences with outlandish explanations and nuanced mysteries that can never be answered coherently?
In Costain’s telling, the journey through an isolated landscape compiled of religious mythology distilled to the essence isn’t much different from any typical post-apocalyptic adventure. But instead of this post-apocalyptic world being a result of our science going wrong or nature revolting against us, it’s created from our mania for explanations crowding us out. There are no humans in Costain’s world because there is barely room for them — there’s really only space for our ideas, which is just so much grasping into the vacuum. We’ve been defeated by our own desperation to explain ourselves and our universe, and the psychological clutter created by it all.
If entropy is an inevitable disorder in the universe, Costain suggests that it is created by the human desire for order — and that is the creation we should be concerned with.