The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw
A diverse team of broken, diminished former criminals get back together to solve the mystery of their last, disastrous mission and to rescue a missing and much-changed comrade... but they’re not the only ones in pursuit of the secret at the heart of the planet Dimmuborgir. The highly-evolved AI of the universe have their own agenda and will do whatever it takes to keep humans from ever controlling the universe again. This band of dangerous women, half-clone and half-machine, must battle their own traumas and a universe of sapient ageships who want them dead, in order to settle their affairs once and for all.
Cassandra Khaw’s debut novel is a page-turning exploration of humans and machines that is perfect for readers of Ann Leckie, Ursula Le Guin, and Kameron Hurley.
TITLE: The All-Consuming World
AUTHOR: Cassandra Khaw
LENGTH: 288 pages
GENRE: Science Fiction
*I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review of this book.
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s), Trans Secondary Character(s), Closeted/Questioning Secondary Character(s).
THE ALL-CONSUMING WORLD is a beautiful mess of broken people here to fuck shit up and probably die trying at least once or twice.
The world-building is marinated in sci-fi vibes and queer longing, generated though hyper-dense jargon alternated with declarations of laser-focused loyalty backed up by gore and plasma. It even takes the time to show a brief glimpse of how ordinary person would conduct life in this space, all without stopping the action. It's fragmented like a glass vase you drop on purpose while making smoldering eye contact with a nemesis you want to fuck. Most beautiful as it shatters but useless afterwards. Turns out the vase is Maya, and Rita is prepared to drop and rebuild her a hundred times to get what she wants.
There are several narrators who each have their own styles, it made them pretty easy to tell apart which was helpful when the story is revealed through the combination of their perspectives and they're apart for most of the book.
I loved Maya's meeting with Reha. It's this moment to breathe and contemplate, something it feels like Maya has never had the time nor space to do. The tone is distinct from the rest in the book in a way that complements the whole by being a different texture from the rest. It's such an important conversation for a character whose only mentor so far is Rita (who on her best days is indifferent and most of the time is actively manipulative). My favorite moment deals with the paradox that exiting a queer "girl power" space can be needed to figure out one's own queerness.
The prose is fantastic, densely syllabic, unafraid to pack in adjectives, to verb nouns and noun verbs. It makes language feel like a game, like the quickest way to the essence of a thought was to make the words scream and twist. This is especially fitting in a story filled with psychological manipulation and loyalty past reason. Anyone who spends their time loyal to Rita ends up needing twisted words just to keep track of their own thoughts. The main characters are complex and generally unlikeable, but fascinating and really great to read. Maya is a beautiful broken wreck of a person, managing to eke out a small piece of personal growth towards the very end when everything totally goes to shit.
CW for grief (graphic), cursing (graphic), emotional abuse (graphic), vomit, blood (graphic), gore (graphic), eye trauma, medical content (graphic), violence (graphic), gun violence (graphic), suicide (graphic), murder (graphic), major character death (graphic), death (graphic).