Worlds Enough and Time – Novellas
This collection of novellas came out in 2002 and represents recent writing for Simmons. I think I first heard of Dan Simmons with the publication of The Terror, but it’s also possible that I read The Terror because I really like Ilium. I just don’t recall which I read first or when. Anyway, one of the things that happens when you read a lot of Dan Simmons is that he comes across as very hard to pin down in terms of genre and as a person. Someone like Stephen King is most comprehensible in both ways. Stephen King is a horror writer, who is talented and smart enough to play around in other genres with lots of success. Stephen King is also a lot like Mark Twain in that not only is he an expert in his genre, he’s an expert in the ways that Americans are, they think, and they talk. He also is a very public presence with his thoughts and ideas outside of writing, or in some cases writes introductions and other materials that offer up additional glimpses of who he is, not unlike Mark Twain. Dan Simmons is much more a mystery. It’s clear he plays it close to the chest and mostly doesn’t have much of a public presence outside of his work. And his work is so all over the place in terms of genre, that he’s very hard to pin down that way as well. He seems like a horror writer when you read Carrion Comfort or The Terror or Summer of Night, and then you read something like Hyperion, and it’s one of the smartest sci-fi books I’ve ever read. To me, he’s much more like David Bowie, an absolute savant who can pick up genres with a kind of instant mastery. He also almost never talks much outside his actual fiction. In this collection he does, and it’s very nice actually. He gives a small introduction to this collection, talking about things that’s interested in with his writing and with thinking about writing. It’s modest, but it’s interesting. He also introduces the stories themselves, with a sense that he’s slightly uncomfortable doing so. Unlike Stephen King, he doesn’t write a ton of short fiction, even though, like Stephen King, his novels probably average more that 500 pages each.
Looking for Kelly Dahl – 4/5
This first novella in the collection begins with our narrator, who we learn is a man in his mid fifties, describing looking out over a wide valley in wilderness near Boulder, CO. He’s describing his gear, his view, his sense of the area, and a little of his mindset. He also tells us that the valley has kind of been replaced by a huge inland sea (there’s none of these in Boulder by the way) and that everything feels a little off about it. We slowly learn that he is out there “hunting” a girl named Kelly Dahl, and we understand that she’s got some kind of supernatural power to manipulate time and space, and that she’s created either this illusion, or this reality. It doesn’t matter that much.
We jump around in time a little (not supernaturally, but narratively) and learn that our narrator is a former high school and middle school history teacher and that Kelly Dahl is one of his former students was preternaturally gifted and who he at some point lost touch with. He was just returned from Vietnam when he took a teaching job and had a 26 year career in which he tells us there were some good years. This is all interlaced with additional sections of him looking for the girl, slowly revealing more and more of their shared past. (By the way, opposite of a trigger warning, there’s a lot of pain here, but he’s above board. The girl’s past is shattered in big ways, but he’s not a cause of it.)
The confrontation seems aimed at making sure he understands that he’s misremembered something big and important from his past and that he’s not allowed yet to obliterate his future. This story includes a very familiar and very well rendering of being a teacher.
The Ninth of Av – 3/5 Stars
Approached with the task of writing a novella in which the year 3001 is imagined, Dan Simmons asks himself the question of what would a look at 2001 have looked like from someone in the year 1000 or so. It’s an interesting question and likely not one that could have been answered in any kind of meaningful way. While some people here at there in pre-Renaissance Europe could envision a far future, well, without some of the collective almost exponential kind of thinking necessary (the idea of watching technology not just advance but explode) it seems moot. So he asks himself, what is something that is true of humanity then and now, and not one of the common kinds of experiences that get talked about all the time. His answer: that someone, somewhere will be trying to harm Jews.
It’s a weird answer, but interesting. The story he writes is not great, but does imagine a future in which intergalactic, posthuman society will still somehow come up with the conclusion to blame the world’s problem on Jews. I think this story could have been more effective if he were Jewish and had a little sense of humor about the topic. It’s a serious topic, but it’s far flung into the future and maybe could use some levity.
The End of Gravity – 3/5
You’ve maybe seen a Dan Simmons story on screen if you’ve seen The Terror, which is a great show and also a pretty faithful rendition of the novel. It’s grotesque and disgusting and the scenes with scurvy and the false euphoria are horrifying. At times Dan Simmons is the best horror writer I know of and that sometimes translates to the best science fiction writer I know of, and sometimes not, but it’s a pretty good track record in general.
On K2 with Kanakaredes – 4/5
I immediately looked up the name Kanakaredes, because it’s a Greek last name to see if there were any real answer for why it gets used in this story, but I couldn’t find anything.
The story begins with a group of serious climbers meeting with the secretary of state. It’s a few decades in the future and the world has been visiting by an Alien race who is preparing some kind of shared ritual called the “song”. Humans have no idea what this means, but are obviously interested. The aliens (called not so originally the bugs) are also interested in human. The ship took five hundred years to reach earth which means that several generations of the species came over and some were born in transit. One of these, the offspring of a high official, has requested a guided trip up K2. K2 is less popular than Everest (being a little shorter, so to speak) and also has a much higher percentage of deadly hikes. Only around 400 people have reached the summit, and about 1/5 of the people who attempt it die, which is truly wild. So the group is leery, but accepts when they’re told that in trade for this expedition, the aliens will take the group to Mars and climb Mons Olympos with them. This is too good to pass off, because among other things, humans have not been to Mars.
So the story is mostly a point by point ascent up K2 as the group with the alien group member slowly begin to understand each other. They camp together, climb together, and face danger together. At the summit, there’s a funny moment when the alien asks the climbers, all Americans, if there’s some special ritual at the top. Being Americans, there isn’t, they shrug and begin the ascent. The danger is not up yet of course.
I am more and more interested in the Dan Simmons novel The Abominable and I already planned on reading the rest of the Hyperion series, so this feels like the tipping point for me.