DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Worlds Enough & Time
By Dan Simmons
Hardcover/ $40/ 243 pages
ISBN: 1-9310181-54-9
Subterranean Press

Dan Simmons is one of those authors who is often described as "transcending genre." An editor (quite rightfully) once skewered my use of the cliché "transcends genre" in a review. He was right. No matter how well-intentioned we may be, it's an insult to whatever category of fiction you are dealing with as well as the writer to whom you are applying it. Transcend means (according to Merriam-Webster) "to rise above or go beyond the limits triumph over the negative or restrictive aspects of: overcome...synonym see exceed." And that's not what I meant to say (although some folks may mean it). Yes, "genre" can be used to mean a certain formulaic "expected" type of fiction. There is such a thing as genre horror and science fiction and fantasy, but when you are considering horror and science fiction and fantasy as literature - there are no limits to go beyond, no restrictive aspects to triumph over. How can you have expectations of the fantastic? How can you exceed the limitless? How can you assume anything about that which is speculative?

Dan Simmons, therefore, does NOT transcend genre. He represents the best "genre" has to offer and often does so because he doesn't consider boundaries, he simply produces good literature. The five "long stories" in his new collection, Worlds Enough & Time, are examples of what Simmons does so well: he explores the profound through characters and situations he devises then presents in a literate and astoundingly engaging manner. In simpler terms -- classic fiction.

cover Of the five, readers may be most familiar with "Looking for Kelly Dahl" which was originally published by Omni Online in 1995, then reprinted in an anthology edited by Steve Rasnic Tem, as well as by Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection. Simmons combines his love for teaching (something he did for nearly two decades) and love for the Colorado Rockies in this dark, surrealistic tale of personal redemption and transcendence. Like most people who work with children, Simmons finds horror in how children are treated in our society and "Kelly" is a chilling reflection of this. At the same time it's something of an outdoor adventure tale as a suicidal, alcoholic ex-teacher is challenged by a former student into a stalking duel to the death. It's also a breathtaking piece that you will never forget. "On K2 with Kanakaredes" is another adventurous of the ilk, although more science fictional. Three mountaineers are forced to take an important insect-like nonhumanoid with them on an assault on a deadly Himalayan peak. It's a surprising story that, in other hands, may have been simply entertaining sf. With Simmons in charge it remains entertaining, but becomes a parable.

Simmons -- despite writing award-winning horror, thrillers, mystery-espionage, hard-boiled detective, and "darn we can't call it genre, so it must be mainstream" novels - is, due to his Hyperion Cantos, probably most closely associated as a "genre" writer with science fiction. "Orphans of the Helix," set in his Hyperion universe, shows why sf-ists are so eager to claim him. The novella concerns the Amoiete Spectrum Helix society and is set three centuries years after the events of The Rise of Endymion. The title is a wry reference to Robert A. Heinlein's novella, "Orphans of the Sky," and although the those on the orphaned ship in question here have not devolved into a non-tech society ruled by adherence to a contrived religion, the story does contain interesting elements of religious evolution.

"The Ninth of Av," published here for the first time in English, is a dark narrative set a thousand years in the future. A deeply moving story, casual readers may not completely grasp its profundity unless they are willing to learn a bit. And in our own time of senseless hatred, the lesson the story teaches may be that we never do learn. Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, is the saddest day of the Jewish year, but even many Jews are unaware of its meaning. Two of the tragedies of Jewish history that occurred on this day were the destructions of the First and the Second Temples. The Talmud (Yoma 9b) tells us the first was destroyed "Because that generation transgressed the three cardinal sins: idol worship, sexual immorality, and murder. Why was the Second Temple destroyed? Because of unwarranted hatred." Hatred seems never to die.

The final "story" in the collection is actually a film treatment and, as literature, it suffers from the necessities and starkness of the form. The ideas - the human need for exploration, the strength of memory, the meaning of death - come across clearly, however. Unfortunately, without the visual medium and other aspects of film, the prose suffers and sentimentality overwhelms its spirituality. It becomes somewhat mawkish rather than the meditation it could be.

The author provides each of five stories with an original and highly worthwhile preface and the book as a whole with one of the best introductions this side of Harlan Ellison.

Although the book will be more broadly released in tradepaper later this year, the Subterranean edition is a beautiful example of the bookcrafter's art and a good argument for investing in the hardcover. If there are copy-editing errors, my usually persnickety eyes found none. A thoughtful book, thoughtfully done. Bravo! -- Paula Guran (Orginally appeared in CEMETERY DANCE #40)

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