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Maxwell’s Demon
General Fiction, Literary

Maxwell’s Demon

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Thomas Quinn is a struggling writer, living in the shadow of his late father’s protégé, Andrew Black, who wrote one masterpiece and disappeared. With his wife on the other side of the Earth and mounting bills to pay, life’s starting to catch up. Then he receives a mysterious polaroid and a note from none other than Andrew Black. Should he reply or will he be drawn into something he can’t escape?

On the outside, Maxwell’s Demon sounds like a straightforward mystery, but those who read The Raw Shark Texts will know it’s anything but. The title is a clue; Maxwell’s demon is a thought experiment on how entropy (in regards to thermal dynamics) might be violated. The novel returns again and again to the theme of entropy, both the physics definition and that of disorder.

Good stories seem to just work, but they are actually made to work by the artfully concealed application of a shitload of time. And here’s the thing about writers – they’re like poker players, they all have individual tells that give them away.

I liked how entropy is introduced in the idea of a messy kitchen. The kitchen wants to be messy, the odds of it being tidy are miniscule, only one thing needs to be out of order for it to be messy. And the rules of entropy means it will only get messier unless something intervenes.

Quinn refers to a novel as a closed system, one where entropy does not exist. The story does not decay, it can be read over and over and will remain the same. Andrew Black fell out with his publisher over the subject of ebooks. He feared that ebooks would cause the unravelling of reality. His fears over ebooks echo those who objected to Gutenberg’s printing press…and I think Gutenberg’s Bible must have been an inspiration for this book.

A process caused by black hole hyperlinks, electronic text and the internet, because without the protective beginning and end of a good, solid, old-fashioned, physical book, entropy gets a free hand in all of it, leaving the final state of everything to become a meaningless, orderless jumble of dust.

It does go on a Biblical tangent but I wouldn’t worry if you’re not religious, just bear in mind that Gutenberg Bible. When they feared the press would change history, there were already different versions of the “Word of God”, and something in Maxwell’s Demon hinges on that. The stories we know today as canon weren’t always canon.

Maybe Andrew Black had reason to fear the digitised word, in this world of fake news, clickbait and bots we now live in. Reality has just about managed to survive 2020.

There is a lot about being a writer in this book too. Quinn published one original novel before going on to take jobs writing for licensed franchises, something he is not snobbish about. Maybe Quinn is slightly autobiographical (at least until now). Quinn’s father was a successful writer, and Andrew Black was a genius who his father treated like another son. He can’t live up to that, and the world is desperately waiting for another novel from Black.

This is our world, and it’s a world of sequels, prequels, remakes, remakquels. This is our age, and it’s the age of the hyperlink and the shared universe, where all the stories are interconnected and everyone takes a turn at being the author of everything.

 

This book is both a mystery story and an exploration of words, stories and reality. As with The Raw Shark Texts some text is formatted in shapes, leaves that fall from Quinn’s world into the book. They serve as footnotes, perhaps clues as to what’s going on. I found it took quite a lot of concentration to read in the earlier chapters but soon I was gripped, I needed to know if reality was indeed falling apart.

Maxwell’s Demon is published by Canongate and will be available from the 4th February 2021 in hardback, ebook (hold on to reality!) and audiobook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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