The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw (book review).

The All-Consuming World’ by Cassandra Khaw is a standalone Science Fiction novel.

The Dirty Dozen, humans turned into clone-able cyborgs, disbanded forty years ago after one of their operations went horribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of two of their members, Johanna and Elise.

Now their erstwhile leader, Rita, is gathering the remnants together to rescue Elise, who can then lead them to Johanna. They both exist as a consciousness in the Conversation, the data space of ‘The Minds’. These Minds have their own agenda of killing off ex-cons and all their descendants.

Pimento, a ‘little mind’ having only been in existence for 40 years, is a Surveyor in the great order of minds. Its aim is to gain better access to the Conversation in return for gathering information for the more established and sophisticated minds.

It lets on to the superior Merchant Mind that it knows a little about Dimmuborgir. The Merchant Mind wants Dimmuborgir for its own reason, namely to eat its data to become bigger in its own right, and employs Pimento to help find it.

The Merchant Mind hedges its bets. It has also told Rita where Elise is and what he would pay for her. He says he wants Elise because she knows where Dimmuborgir is.

So begins the hunt for Dimmuborgir that sets Rita and her team on a collision course with the Merchant Mind to be played out at Dimmuborgir, whatever this place really is.

This is a cyberpunk space opera meeting literary. The rich sumptuous use of language, the detail of reaction by the protagonists, and the wide variety of matching writing styles to the protagonists make for a feast of luxuriating bookish enjoyment.

But it comes at a price. The novel contains an unhealthy scattering of obscure words, which will leave far too many readers unnecessarily missing out on nuances and subtleties. The novel falls short on true literariness by repeating the use of obscure words several times, some of them totally unnecessarily. These repeats ‘shout’ out to the reader to the detriment of reading the novel.

The universe-building is so detailed that the reader can easily imagine it. It is full of background ideas. For instance, the discussion between the Minds has some switching voices to emphasize what they are saying.

One of the things I liked about ‘The All-Consuming World’ was that it clearly laid out the limitations of the technology that had an impact on the plot. For example, cloning comes with the risks of brain damage, cognitive discrepancies, and cancer. There are only so many times a person can be re-cloned. One of the Dirty Dozen, Maya, is the soldier who often sacrifices her body during operations to get the job done, and therefore this limitation has to be watched carefully.

The ending, once the truth about Dimmuborgir is revealed, is one of several plots that can quite logically be expected to play out. However, it comes up fast and leaves several side issues unanswered. For instance, what has really driven Pimento to do what it did?

This is a rich debut novel that promises exciting and interesting novels from Cassandra Khaw in the future, especially where cyberpunk is concerned.

Rosie Oliver

July 2021

(pub: Erewhon Books, August 2021 in the UK. 275 page hardback. Price: £19.99 (UK). ISBN for hardcover: 978-1-64566-020-0)

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