The Edge of Reason: Rationalism vs. religion
Richard Oort, a police officer in Albuquerque, finds out that he is a paladin for the forces of rationality and science. He is recruited in the fight against the forces of evil: Cthulhu-esque beings from another dimension who feed on humanity’s fears and pain to break through to our world and use religion to gain power by spreading hatred and fear.
The Edge of Reason (2008) is set in the present day but successfully ties the history of various myths and religions into its background. At times, the “religion = bad” message is a bit heavy (and I can imagine some people taking offense to it), but at the same time, it manages to turn this fantasy novel into a sharp social commentary that, depending on your political views, may or may not make you nod in agreement. Regardless, the connection between religion and a Chtulhu-type invasion is quite original — and it’s not every day you encounter a fantasy novel in which rationalism is good and magic is evil.
Oort is an interesting and complex character, and the way Melinda Snodgrass slowly reveals his personality and his past is one of the best aspects of this novel. There’s also a cast of solid, well-realized side-characters (human and otherwise) who make this novel a pleasure to read. I also enjoyed the loving way Melinda Snodgrass described New Mexico and Albuquerque, the setting for most of the novel.
The Edge of Reason is a fascinating present-day fantasy with a unique concept and solid characters. Its sequel, The Edge of Ruin, is due out this Spring from Tor, and the author is currently at work on book 3 in the EDGE series.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2010, 40% of Americans believe “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”
I’m not particularly interested in starting a debate about evolution versus creationism, but what I find interesting in this statistic is what it says about how religion seems to be edging out science in our country. Personally, I’ve never understood why anyone thinks they need to be in conflict, and the Catholic Church, in which I was raised, appears to agree with me (in this century, at least). But many seem to see them as being not only incompatible, but metaphorically at war. Melinda Snodgrass takes this concept one step further, and has them actually at war with one another. And from her viewpoint, it is science — and Lucifer — with which righteousness lies.
It is not that God does not exist in the world Snodgrass creates in The Edge of Reason. He does, in all His aspects — Yahweh, the Holy Spirit, and every version of Christ you can imagine, from the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Jeffrey Hunter of “King of Kings” to the more politically correct, ethnically Jewish working-class man who can be seen in the popular print entitled “Jesus Laughing.” The one allied with the forces of science, in fact, is a homeless man living in a cardboard box. But God is not the only God — all gods from all time exist. And it is their goal to ensure that they are worshipped for all time. They feed on the suffering of humankind, and therefore must keep humans away from reason, understanding and technology. Otherwise, humans might free themselves from the yoke of superstition and achieve the stars. The tool of the Old Ones is magic, which genuinely exists; they can create golems to do their bidding, for instance, or throw spells at their enemies (that, after all, is what miracles are).
Opposing these forces are the Lumina, headed by an entity in human form called Kenntnis — the German word for “knowledge.” Kenntnis is a rich and powerful man, but cannot act without human agents; man, it seems, must save himself, by his own choice. His recruit is Richard Oort, a police officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, chosen to be the paladin for our time, following in the footsteps of the likes of King Arthur and Benjamin Franklin. Richard is a man with a complicated past that includes a domineering father, a failed career as a musician, and a dark episode of which he will not speak. Oort is also a man of faith who finds Kenntnis to be a tempter indeed — the snake in the Garden of Eden bringing knowledge to Adam and Eve, Prometheus bringing fire to humankind. He does not know whom to trust, and must go through his own dark night of the soul in order to decide which side he is on.
Snodgrass does not make any of these decisions easy for any of her characters. Her writing is brisk and absorbing; I had difficulty putting The Edge of Reason down. Her background as a television screenwriter is apparent in the way she can build suspense (she wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation, including the famous script, “The Measure of a Man,” perhaps my favorite episode — the one in which Data is put on trial to decide whether he is sufficiently human to determine his own destiny).
The Edge of Reason is only the first in a series. The second book, The Edge of Ruin, is available, but the publisher has refused to commit to the publication of further books in the series. It’s my belief that The Edge of Reason is worth reading regardless; and if enough of us clamored for more books in the series, maybe Snodgrass would even consider self-publishing or epublishing. Here’s hoping.
Yep, which is why I'm willing to give a sequel a shot
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