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The All-Consuming World
by Cassandra Khaw

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted August 29, 2021

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Thanks to Net Galley for the e-ARC of Cassandra Khaw's debut novel in exchange for an honest review. The All-Consuming World will release next week, September 7. Khaw's earlier stories have primarily been within the horror genre, but here they craft a frenetic, chaotic blend of cyberpunk and space opera, although there are a few horrific events. Forty years after the final and catastrophic mission conducted by the Dirty Dozen, a group of clones, most with multiple bionic enhancements, the leader attempts to bring the survivors back for one more mission, one that might correct some of their past mistakes.

Rita is the leader; Maya is her loyal trigger-happy minion. Maya loves Rita, although it had never been romantic. Instead it's more like the loyalty of a dog or faithful servant. There are many reasons why that should not have been the case, as we learn Rita has very little, if any, empathy or desire for personal attachments. Yet whenever Maya has died, Rita is the first thing she sees on each revival, as Rita painstakingly brings her back to full health, making Maya ready for the next mission. Forty years before, two of the company died beyond recovery, the group split up, several successful in disappearing, if not killing themselves and making sure nothing was left behind for Rita to reanimate. But now word comes that Elise is still alive, or alive again, so Rita tasks Maya with gathering as many of the others as possible to rescue Elise. In this far future there are multiple artificial intelligences, Minds, some residing in ageships, others crafting a home for themselves on a planet or moon. The Merchant Mind is the one that gives Rita the knowledge of Elise's survival, and contracts her to retrieve her, and in exchange it will direct Rita to the planet Dimmuborgir, to reap the spoils the Dirty Dozen lost out on during that fateful mission. Or at least that is what Rita is told. In turn, Rita only tells the others the minimum, that Elise is alive, but not what she has promised to do for the Merchant Mind.

An interesting story hampered by poor execution. Or perhaps I should say it was not as well crafted as I would have liked. It's confusing that parts are written in third-person, others in second, a few in first, with Elise being the narrator there, but also times when Elise is present but it's not in first-person. There is a lot of time wasted on arguments between the group, most of whom had been traumatized by the death of Johanna, so much so that they didn't want to have anything to do with Rita again, whom they blamed for the mission's failure. No matter how much Maya might have been traumatized too, she cannot shake her loyalty to Rita, even when she realizes Rita has withheld information, or outright lied to her. Maya is only able to track down three others: Ayane, now the proprietress of a casino/entertainment complex; Constance, a policewoman; and Audra, the one Maya always wanted to have a romantic relationsip with. Audra had changed their name to Verdigris and is a mega pop-star. I'm not sure what enhancements Audra had, but Verdigris has many augmentations, including several mouths and vocal cords all over their body, so that they can sing in multiple harmonies all by themselves. They can also shift their body shape, hair, and skin color on demand, transforming from female to male to neutral in the blink of an eye. Several times Verdigris is referred to as she and he within the same sentence. No matter how much they hate the idea of working with Rita, all of them would do anything to see Elise again, so they relent and follow along.

I mentioned above that the pace is frenetic and chaotic. I'm usually good at visualizing characters and settings while reading, but many times I got lost in the cascade of action and exposition. I also would say I have a high vocabulary, but I had to look up more words than in any other book I can recall, and this one is fairly short. There were times I thought the word was made up only to find a dictionary or wikipedia definition, but in many cases a simpler word would have sufficed, and been more compatible with how the characters speak. I can forgive the typos since it was an ARC, but why all the pop-cultural references from late 20th to early 21st Century? I thought it might make sense if there was no new media being produced, but Vergigris' career disputes that. The ending is also very abrupt. Reading on my Kindle I'm able to see the percentage of my progress. I was at 97% and couldn't figure out how the story was going to be resolved, only to find out a few pages later that it really wasn't, it just ends. I guess Khaw left it to the reader to decide for themselves, although it's possible they will return to this world later. As for me, I thought of another 20th Century reference, but I won't identify the movie.


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Cassandra Khaw

September 7, 2021

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