The Edge Of Reason

The Edge Of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass (Tor, 2009)
Reviewed by Martin Lewis

Imagine if Richard Dawkins was not only American but retarded. Imagine he taught himself to read using the work of illiterate megasellers like James Patterson and Tess Gerritsen. Imagine he further fleshed out his understanding of human nature on a diet of romance novels and misery memoirs. Finally, imagine he stayed up one night getting drunk and watching piss poor police procedurals before having the sudden brainwave of re-writing American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Imagine all that and you have imagined Melinda Snodgrass’s dire The Edge Of Reason and thus saved yourself the pain of actually reading it.

Our hero, Richard Oortz, is an East Coast blueblood concert pianist turned New Mexican policeman with a Terrible Secret. You might think this sounds unlikely and you would be right. He is also an extraordinarily good-looking bisexual gymnast whose DNA, unlike most of the rest of humanity, contains no magic. This last is of paramount importance because, counter-intuitively, it allows him to wield a magic sword that will save the world.

The idiotic plot revolves around the rather large co-incidence that the Devil also happens to live in Alberquerque (apparently this is because “it is a place where science and magic rub close”.) In a mind blowing twist, He is actually the good guy since he represents rationality and Oortz must unite with him to overthrow the tyranny of God. What follows is tosh to the nth degree, Snodgrass has somehow managed to harness the worst of the blockbuster thriller and paranormal romance genres. And if the plot is bad – lacking sense, structure and interest – then the writing is even worse. To take an example:

Lean Cuisine hefted light in the hand as if the contents of the package were as cardboard as the box. Richard hooked open the crisper drawer of the refrigerator with the tow of his shoe. Fresh bok choy, peppers and ginger flashed color and guilt at him. He would cook. (p82)

The rest of the prose is equally cloth-eared and over-wrought and the dialogue reads like the work of Elizabots. It was solely because of professional obligation that I read all the way to the end, only to be rewarded with a limp, open-ended conclusion that paves the way for equally appalling sequels.

The book’s jacket bizarrely claims that it is as controversial as The Golden Compass or The Illuminatus! Trilogy, possibly the only time those two books have been mentioned in the same sentence. The Golden Compass was controversial (in the US) because it was marketed at kids and suggested that organised religion wasn’t that great. The Illuminatus! Trilogy was controversial because it was an insane counter-culture conspiracy theory fuckfest. The Edge Of Reason is supposedly controversial because of the whole theological inversion thing but this is only going to shock you if you have parachuted in from the 19th Century (as Oortz appears to have done.) In fact, the only thing controversial about the book is that it ever made it into print from a major publisher like Tor.

This review originally appeared in Vector #258.

8 Responses to “The Edge Of Reason”

  1. Farah Mendlesohn Says:

    If you are going to open a review by insulting someone in this way, you need to spell Gaiman correctly.

  2. Martin Says:

    Thanks, Farah, I’ve fixed the typo now.

  3. David Moles Says:

    Strictly speaking I think that would only be true if Gaiman was the insulted party, or possibly if the insult centered on the insulted party’s inability to spell. But then I’m not privy to the secrets of review etiquette.

  4. Alison Says:

    OK, I know this is the most irritating question ever, but do you think the Albuquerque location has anything to do with Breaking Bad? Science, magic, good, evil, odd couple…?

  5. Ted Says:

    I believe Snodgrass lives in Albuquerque.

  6. Chance Says:

    I forgotten how truly terrible this book was. Damn you, Martin!

  7. Vector Online « Everything Is Nice Says:

    [...] The Edge Of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass : Imagine if Richard Dawkins was not only American but retarded. Imagine he taught himself to read using the work of illiterate megasellers like James Patterson and Tess Gerritsen. Imagine he further fleshed out his understanding of human nature on a diet of romance novels and misery memoirs. Finally, imagine he stayed up one night getting drunk and watching piss poor police procedurals before having the sudden brainwave of re-writing American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Imagine all that and you have imagined Melinda Snodgrass’s dire The Edge Of Reason and thus saved yourself the pain of actually reading it. [...]

  8. Ziv Wities Says:

    I bought this book on the strength of a short story by Snodgrass in F&SF, “A Token of a Better Age.” Couldn’t get through the book. Some of the ideas were fine, but the lack of plot, cardboard characters and the subtle-as-a-nuke mythology revelations made it too much of an effort to slog through and try to get where the author was heading with this. (I assume she *was* heading farther on. Somewhere. I just couldn’t get there with her.)

    Alas.


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