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Underground Reading: World Enough, And Time by James Kahn

World Enough & Time World Enough, And Time (1980) is the story of a post-Apocalyptic fantasy world, in which genetically-modified monsters threaten to wipe out the remaining population of humans. 

Although the novel is set during one of the uneasy truces between the Human and non-Human tribes, things are far from peaceful. 

Joshua (Human) and Beauty (Centaur) are good friends. Both are trying to eke out peaceful existences as farmers. They're also both married: Beauty to Rose, a human (creepy) and Joshua to Dicey (a human, age 15, also creepy). But their (creepy) happiness is shattered when a team of monsters kidnap their brides. Joshua and Beauty, in the best Western tradition, must lay down their plowshares and kick a bit of ass.

Their journey of vengeance takes them across the wilds of former-America. They're joined by Lon (friendly vampire), Jasmine (android) and Isis (a talking cat). There's a also a mutant Butterfly that sort of shadows them along the way. Joshua et. al are in a race against time - they soon learn that their own misfortune has been echoed all up and down the land. Someone is building an empire, and using human blood to do so.

Besides gratuitously glorifying vampires and having part of the narrative told by the damn cat, World Enough, And Time fails in many other ways. For one, it is incredibly boring. You'd think a post-Apocalyptic road trip punctuated with violent combat and inter-species sex would be interesting (disturbing, but at least interesting), but Kahn somehow manages to make the journey as ponderously dull as possible. 

World building plays a major part in this. Jasmine the Android is a billionty-twelve years old, which allows her to give lengthy, meandering historical lectures at every turn in the road. Getting caught in a lethal tropical rainforest is pretty awesome - having a lesson in climate change is not. Similarly, do we really need to know how Centaurs, Trolls, Hobbits, Vampires and Androids all came about? As a reader, I'm committed (to some degree) to this ridiculous world. Having chapter after chapter of lengthy, pseudo-scientific rationalization doesn't help me suspend disbelief, it merely bludgeons to death any lingering excitement I may have had. 

Worse than the world building is the philosophy. This book is an excellent reminder of how unbelievably, painfully, worthy science fiction was for almost two decades (internet: please fight back!). In this case, Joshua the unbearable moaner spends every alternate page espousing the virtues of belief and the printed word (he's an advocate of "Scribery"). Those pages in which he's not evangelizing literacy, he's arguing aesthetics with Beauty. Or Joshua and Beauty are teaming up to argue ethics with a pack of roving bears. (Not a joke). The Vampires (dark, noble, immortal, sexy, blah) could take a lesson from their author when it comes to sucking the life out of things...

As the book limped to its action-packed, yet ultimately meaningless, conclusion, I was stunned to find an ultimate reveal of... nothing. The big bad fizzled, the relationships built on the journey dissipated (there was a lot of shagging about for a pair of married men), and everything culminated in a lot of standing about and avoiding one another's gazes. Had I read this book backwards, it would've essentially been exactly the same story. I have no doubt that there's meaning in this - every leaf of every tree in World Enough, And Time is packed with meaning - but I have absolutely no desire to seek it out. 

If there's one positive about this book it is that, although Kahn deluged the reader with world-building and philosophy, he spared us any poetry. I appreciate the self-restraint.

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