Cassandra Khaw is joining us today to talk about their novel, The All-Consuming World. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Maya has died and been resurrected into countless cyborg bodies through the years of a long, dangerous career with the infamous Dirty Dozen, the most storied crew of criminals in the galaxy, at least before their untimely and gruesome demise. Decades later, she and her diverse team of broken, diminished outlaws must 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 galaxy have their own agenda and will do whatever it takes to keep humanity from ever regaining control. As Maya and her comrades spiral closer to uncovering the AIs’ vast conspiracy, this band of violent 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.
Welcome to The All-Consuming World, the debut novel of acclaimed writer Cassandra Khaw. With this explosive and introspective exploration of humans and machines, life and death, Khaw takes their rightful place next to such science fiction luminaries as Ann Leckie, Ursula Le Guin, and Kameron Hurley.
What’s Cassandra’s favorite bit?
My Favorite Bit of The All-Consuming World is the slowest part of the book, its quietest moment. There are no AIs, no action, barely a profanity. Instead, there is tea, and a house, and a widow still wearing the love of a lifetime next to her heart. Without giving too much away, and you should look away now if you’re allergic to spoilers, Maya goes to the home of a former colleague, and finds that said colleague died a number of years ago, having chosen a natural lifespan. So, a little out of sorts, lacking in things to shoot and people to gun down, she hangs out with her colleague’s widow.
And that’s all they do.
That’s it. That’s all they do. They talk. Maya sits and she snarls and she snaps her teeth, hoping to scare off the other woman. She has spent her life telling herself and others that she’s nothing but a weapon, a twist of hired muscle; she is meant to frighten and she is meant to intimidate. Not sit and talk.
But the woman persists.
Old enough to recognize bravado for what it is, she doesn’t flinch in the face of Maya’s aggression. She sees Maya for what she is: someone so wounded, they no longer know how to respond save with aggression. Anything that might push away a thing that would cause more hurt. She is firm but compassionate, and Maya calms down in the wake of this combination.
And they talk.
I loved writing this scene to no end because Maya, in my headcanon, has never had anyone persist in being kind like this to her. Others have tried but they’ve all been run off by her vitriol. For the first time in her life, someone is just dealing with it and she doesn’t know what to do.
There wasn’t space in the book to let Maya do more but in my heart of hearts, I know what really happened was that it started with a talk, and then the widow said, “You can stay here as long as you need so long as you do some work,” and Maya says yes.
She stays a week, helping the widow with the farmstead. She learns what it is like to garden; she helps feeds space chickens. She builds a shed, learns to cook, to bake, to patiently repeat the process of baking, until she can come up with a tray of reasonable-tasting cupcakes, which she then has to learn how to frost, and Maya proves surprisingly good at it. When she leaves at the end of the week, she is not miraculously cured of all the damage she had sustained over the decades, but there is room now in her for something like healing to take root.
And sometimes, that’s enough.
Cassandra Khaw is an award-winning game writer whose fiction has been nominated for the Locus and British Fantasy Awards. Their short stories can be found in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, Lightspeed, Uncanny Magazine, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy.