The Edge of Reason — Melissa Snodgrass

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The Edge of Reason is an intriguingly conceived, vaguely Lovecraftian novel about the battle for the soul of humanity.

Richard is one of the few good cops in New Mexico. He’s also trying to overcome memories of rape, his conflicted feelings about his sexuality, and the legacy of his mother’s madness. Needless to say, he’s got a lot going on, even before he gets sucked into the world of the Lumina and the battle between the forces of good (logic, reason, humanism) and the forces of bad (religious fundamentalism, jingoism, etc). He and Rhiana, the beautiful co-ed he rescues from assault, are key warriors in this battle. He is the paladin for the side of good. She’s… complicated.

Things I liked:

1. Bonus points for representing the ethnic and racial diversity of New Mexico, and for having people of color as main characters. I especially liked Angela Armandariz, the Afrolatina coroner whose expertise is key to solving some of the mysteries the baddies create. I also liked that she’s consistently ornery, and an actual adult-aged woman. She’s really one of the reasons I got so into this book, and why I’m probably going to finish the series. She’s just so… what I want to be when I grow up. :)

2. I thought Richard’s forced coming out was handled very nicely and very realistically.

3. I enjoyed the use of minor details in order to convey each character’s personality, such as Richard’s poorly supplied refrigerator, Angela’s Christmas decorations, and the homeless Christ’s love of caviar fresh from the can.

Things I didn’t like:

1. Rhiana, the character who sets off this battle, disappears. Her character arc (particularly her feelings about classism, not fitting in, etc) are fairly key to the plot, and often, I think, are eclipsed by Richard’s angst. He becomes the main character and the center of the plot in a world where she’s been active for the last year. It makes me sad that Rhiana begins as a snarky, interesting firebrand and then gets all wrapped up in her teen angst. That felt very contrived, and bummed me out, since it began to feel like she was a tertiary character in a story where she’s actually supposed to be a major character.

2. The logic/science points they bring up are fairly Western in provenance and conception. The major paladins are all, again, Westerners. This wouldn’t bother me so much, except that pretty much everything associated with a Native epistemology is considered faith-based or mystical. I’m sorry, but in a world where magic is REAL and people can develop systems for the manipulation of these mystical forces, that ish is ALSO science and should be discussed as such. Plot point fail. Also, dude, Native people do science too — logical thinking isn’t just the province of the sciences and Western thought structures.

I’m curious to see how the rest of the series plays out, but am still a bit perturbed about these aspects. Having the living representation of scientific curiosity take the form of a mixed race person is a bit useless politically if you’re only going to acknowledge the intellectual contributions of one group.  I do think it’s interesting that Angela (the logical, dedicated scientist) and Rhiana (the logical, dedicated, magic-using physicist) are the two smartest people in the cast now… and are both mixed. I’m worried, though, that the thrust of the series will be that monoracial people, or people who take pride in a particular ethnic/racial identity, are somehow automatically aligned with the baddies… and I’m ESPECIALLY worried that this badness will get displaced onto people of color and “bad” whites. I’ve heard really good things about Snodgrass, though, so hopefully that won’t happen. Also, she hopefully won’t make the driving conflict between Angela and Rhiana center on Richard. :-/ That would be such a reductive characterization of two potentially interesting women. As of right now, this series only barely passes the Bechdel test — the times Angela and Rhiana talk are few, and are powerfully framed by the men in the novel.

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