Worlds Enough & Time: Five Tales of Speculative
(Eos, $14.95, 262 pages, paperback; December 2002.)
Dan Simmons is such a fine writer that it's unthinkable that any collection
of his stories would be anything less than OK. But, more
than OK, and I'm not too sure this one is.
the same token, one expects a Simmons collection to be a bit
The five long stories are "Looking for Kelly Dahl" (1995), "Orphans
of the Helix" (1999), "The Ninth of Av" (2000), "On K2 With Kanakaredes"
(2001) and "The End of Gravity" (2002; original to this collection).
The first of these is fantasy; the next three are science fiction; and
the final piece is less a story than an edited movie treatment that
has touches of quasi-magic realism but is really a straightforward fiction
concerned with the roughly contemporary Russian space program.
"Looking for Kelly Dahl" is the story that you're likely to want this
book for. Its narrator is a reformed-alcoholic ex-schoolteacher who,
in a fit of depression, commits suicide by driving into a disused pit
only to discover that, rather than dead, he is in a world created by
one of his old pupils, Kelly Dahl, an obviously troubled, intelligent,
sexually abused girl who oddly fascinated him while he taught her but
of whom he has long ago lost track. He and Kelly are the only occupants
of this world, which is composed of tracts of Colorado drawn from different
epochs of historical and geological time. Kelly spells the rules out
to him on his arrival: the game is that they are to hunt each other,
most likely to the death. At the end of the hunt he returns to his original
reality -- but to discover that there's been a slight change: now there
never was a Kelly Dahl under his tutelage; she has existed only in his
A lesser writer would have tied all this together with some neat explanation
-- some explication of a mechanism that would make all the pieces of
the story make sense. Wisely, Simmons doesn't do this: such a reduction
would detract from the tale. The piece is beautifully written in a slow
leisurely style that adds to the feel of its strangeness.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book is a bit of a downhill slide, and
matters aren't helped by the somewhat overblown and certainly overlong
introductory material scattered through the book. (I'm a great fan of
authors' introductions to their stories, but I several times grew impatient
with these.) In his introduction to "Orphans of the Helix" Simmons tells
us how he dickered over making it a Star Trek screenplay rather
than a story, and was pleased that he chose the latter option. Unfortunately,
it still reads like a Star Trek scenario with the names and details
changed a bit; it also seems more than a little derivative of Larry
Niven's The Integral Trees (1984), among others.
"The Ninth of Av" has much of the feel of Michael Moorcock's Dancers
at the End of Time tales, although its far-future decadence plays
out against a more "realistic" backdrop -- sciencefictional rather than
fully fantasticated. In his prefatory remarks Simmons tells how the
piece was commissioned for an anthology of tales set in 3001; racking
his brains for something that wouldn't so have changed in the course
of a millennium as to be unimaginable today, he came up with the notion
that one permanent element of the human condition was antisemitism.
Well, ho hum. A potentially fairly strong story is wrecked by this conceit.
Far closer in the future is the setting of "On K2 With Kanakaredes".
The Kanakaredes of the title is a young member of a party of alien visitors
who have arrived on Earth to observe us from their allocated settlement
in the Antarctic. Kanakaredes wishes to experience mountain-climbing,
and a somewhat amateurish trio of human mountaineers is dragooned into
taking him along on an alpine-style assault up K2. Although somewhat
longer than its paradigms, this is really just a straightforward sf
tale of the type found aplenty in the US magazines thirty or so years
ago -- complete with the cheesy denouement. It's not boring, but neither
is it especially interesting; it'd help pass a train journey, but that's
The final piece is just plain annoying. The place for movie treatments
is, in almost every case, on the desk of a potential movie producer,
not in a story collection. It has a plot (of sorts) that might work
on the screen but doesn't on the printed page; the characters never
materialize because they would require actors to make them complete.
There are some nice moments, but...
By book's end one has the feeling that this whole effort has been rather
half-hearted -- an impression not one whit dispelled by the sloppy proofreading
throughout. Neither is one cheered by the fact that this title was used
for a Joe Haldeman novel only a decade ago; surely Simmons and his publisher
must have been aware of this, so it's as if they couldn't be bothered
looking around for something a tad more original. (It wasn't, to be
honest, among Haldeman's more inspired titles to begin with.) One superb
story, three acceptable ones and a swiz do not a collection make. We
can only hope that Dan Simmons -- the real Dan Simmons, one's
tempted to say -- is back putting his whole heart and soul into his
Review by John Grant.
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