Cassandra Khaw’s 2021 The All-Consuming World is a stand-alone science fiction heist novel.
At their peak, the Dirty Dozen were a criminal force to be reckoned with. Decades later, however, their surviving members have been scattered, their days of team work long behind them.
Any sensible career criminal would know that getting the gang back together for one last heist is always a bad idea. But Maya specializes in doling out violence (or in standing up to it). Being sensible is someone else’s job. A sensible criminal wouldn’t take on the heist job … but she agrees to it.
The treasure Rita (Maya’s partner in crime) covets is on Dimmuborgir. Maya and Rita alone are not up to the job. Therefore, they must track down the other surviving members of the Dozen. Problem: unlike Maya, the others ended their codependent relationship with Rita decades ago. The ones who didn’t end up dead have very little interest in teaming up with a woman nobody can trust.
Maya is muscle. Rita is the visionary (don’t ask what her success rate is). Johanna was the sensible one — too bad she’s too dead to drag into Rita’s new scheme. Elise… Elise is only mostly dead, and mostly dead is, to quote Miracle Max, slightly alive. Slightly alive is very useful from Rita’s perspective. Elise’s electronic ghost (were it to be rescued) could pull in her friends, friends who would otherwise shun Rita.
Reluctance to team up with unreliable, abusive Rita is only part of the challenge. The Minds that run the galaxy have decided that people like the Dozen are personae non grata. The Dozen and anyone connected to them need to be ushered off the stage. Maya and Rita are understandably reluctant to be expunged. However, the Minds are nigh-godlike. What hope do criminals have if they try to stand up to them?
This isn’t just a heist story. It’s a found family story. Unfortunately for Maya, not all found families are healthy. This novel provides an exploration of possible failure modes for found families. Sure, going along with Rita will most assuredly provide all the adrenalin rushes one could want, right up to the point Rita gets her friends killed (again). Not that Rita would ever admit that the deaths are her fault.
That a found family could be irredeemably toxic is, of course, perfectly plausible. The Manson family was a found family, after all. Sometimes, the best thing one can do with a found family is to recognize it’s irredeemably flawed and walk away from it. It’s useful to have at least one novel out there that does not double down on the sunk cost fallacy.
Unless one is a sadist, watching an absolute train wreck of a relationship isn’t fun1. Khaw is a skillful enough writer that readers will care about Maya, and find it hard to look away from the ongoing catastrophe that is Maya’s relationship with Rita.
1: OK, maybe a little fun, if the people involved are all terrible people being sabotaged by personal flaws they refuse to acknowledge or work on.