Edge of the Universe

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

The Great Glass Sea: A fine literary novel with a solid SF premise

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil

It’s difficult to write a comprehensive yet succinct critique of a work by someone who understands storytelling from the bones outward, who writes unsentimentally about a place he loves and uses exquisite language while doing it. That’s my particular challenge with Josh Weil’s literary novel The Great Glass Sea.

I’m reviewing The Great Glass Sea for our Edge of the Universe column because the springboard for the story is an audacious SF what-if: What if orbiting space mirrors could provide 24 hours of light to an agricultural area on earth? What if endless acres of farmland could be sheltered from the elements of winter under huge greenhouses, a sea of glass, and crops could be grown year round? This is the starting point of Weil’s thoughtful, elegiac novel about Russia, his lyrical character study of two broth... Read More

Edge: September Girls: This book does not stay safely in the shallows; it takes risks.

September Girls by Bennett Madison

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]


September Girls, by Bennett Madison was nominated for a 2014 Andre Norton Award for best YA fiction (it didn’t win; Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine did). I see why September Girls was nominated. It’s beautifully written, a sad and sweet story about love, dysfunctional families, and growing up. Oh, and mermaids.

According to Goodreads, the book is also controversial, with some readers embracing it as a surgically precise criti... Read More

Edge: The Word Exchange: Literary thriller with a side of doomsaying

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

When I started listening to Alena Graedon's The Word Exchange on audiobook (read by Tavia Gilbert and Paul Michael Garcia), I was bowled over. The sheer beauty of Graedon's language, the book's inventive dictionary structure, its references to Alice in Wonderland, and the compellingly plausible mystery of the Word Flu hooked me from the beginning. But... ah, there's always a bu... Read More

Edge: Hild by Nicola Griffith

Hild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Hild, Nicola Griffith’s Nebula-nominated novel, takes us to seventh-century England, to the court of Overking Edwin of Northumbria, and into the heart and mind of the young girl who will become his seer, and later be canonized by the Christian church. St. Hilda of Whitby, as she will come to be known, is a child of three when the book starts, and no older than fifteen or sixteen when it ends.

Hild is the great-niece of the king, raised in his court after her father, who was in exile, is poisoned. Hild’s mother teaches her to be quiet and observant, “Quiet mouth, bright mind.” Hild’s love and understa... Read More

Edge: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

“…I would see his hand on the doorknob, the door beginning to swing shut. I have something to say! I’d tell him, and the door would stop part way.

“Start in the middle, then, he’d answer, a shadow with the hall light behind him, and tired in the evenings the way grownups are. The light would reflect in my bedroom window like a star you could wish on.

“Skip the beginning. Start in the middle.”

As frustrating as it is, I am going to try to discuss Karen Joy F... Read More

Edge: On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

I had high hopes for Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. A literary author turning his hand to a post-apocalyptic tale that would focus less it seems on zombies and cannibals etc., but take the opportunity to make some searing points about class and globalization and other current issues. But as has been the case with a distressingly large number of my reads lately, while I ended up appreciating the starting premise and also what Lee was trying to do, he lost me in the execution.

On Such a Full Sea is set in the not-too-far future U.S., ... Read More

Edge: A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or; a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World

A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or; a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World by Rachel Cantor

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

When I distill down my responses to Rachel Cantor’s debut novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or; a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World, I find that what moved me the most profoundly was the main character, Leonard’s, relationship with his nephew, Felix. Leonard’s connection to his now-dead grandfather is important, and Sally the neo-Baconian librarian (not Read More

Edge: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

I consider the Man Booker Prize to be one of the most reliable guides to finding excellent work, much more so than say the Pulitzer or the National Book Award. And so when the long list comes out I dutifully copy it and think about picking up some of them eventually (usually when they’re out of hardcover). But when the shortlist is revealed, I’ll usually leap on those titles and try to read as many as possible as soon as possible. I’ve rarely been disappointed. This year, I’ve worked my way through several, and so far, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is ... Read More

Edge: The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Jeanette Winterson is the author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry and Passion. She writes beautiful prose about fascinating characters, some of whom really existed, and there is always an element of magic or the fantastical in her work. Her latest book, The Daylight Gate, is set in Lancashire, England, early in the 17th century, and reimagines the infamous Pendle Hill witch trials, focusing her storyteller’s lens most closely on the character of Alice Nutter.

Alice Nutter, a real-life person, was a wealthy, land-owning widow who was tried for witchcra... Read More

Edge: Hild by Nicola Griffith

Hild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Nicola Griffith’s Hild: A Novel is something rare. It’s a historical fantasy, but it’s not a magical adventure, a bodice-ripper, a military drama, or even a political thriller. It’s not the kind of book you dive into and finish a day later and forget almost immediately. Hild is a whole world with a taste and texture of its own. It lingers.

The story is a fictionalized (but not fantasized) vision of the early life of Hilda of Whitby, a slightly obscure 7th century English saint. The plot clings to the trailing skirts of a youn... Read More

Edge: Sworn Sword by James Aitcheson

Sworn Sword by James Aitcheson

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Sworn Sword is an historical novel set in the 1060s in England. James Aitcheson is a scholar, and the story of Tancred a Dinant, a knight in the service of William the Conqueror, is painstakingly researched, opening a window into a distant period of British history. There is no fantasy or magic in this book, but it is set in such a distant historical time that it does seem like another world.

Almost everyone knows the date 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, where William of Normandy deposed King Harold. William had relatively little trouble in bringing the south of Britain under his control, but it took another several y... Read More

Edge: The Cuckoo’s Calling: Rowling makes a break without forgetting her roots

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Early in 2013, a new murder mystery came out. Written by an author named Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling was set in England and featured an army veteran detective with a prosthetic leg (he was injured saving other soldiers in Afghanistan), a strange family and an unusual name; Cormoran Strike. A few months later, through a series of different sources, it was revealed that “Robert Galbraith” was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, who wanted to publish her first murder mystery without having it connected in any way to her globally-famous, history-making, best-selling series of YA fantasy best-s... Read More

Edge: The Golem and the Jinni: A magical mural of the immigrant experience

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]


The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker’s debut novel, adds a layer of depth and mystery to the traditional immigrant’s tale with the addition of her title characters. In 1899 New York, a golem without a master and a jinni who was enslaved by a wizard struggle to survive and find meaning in their existences, and in doing so, bring changes to the humans around them.

The golem was created to be a wife to a lonely, self-centered furniture maker who leaves Prussia and go to New York. On the voyage, he dies after awakening the golem. In New York, the golem is taken in by Avram Meyer, a rabbi who knows a... Read More

Edge: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]


Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, is funny. Okay, it’s not snort-beer-out-your-nose funny, (it’s Virginia Woolf after all,) but it’s still witty and fun… probably about as “fun” as Woolf got. The writing is poetic, political and smart, and the story goes nowhere you would expect from the woman who wrote Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse.

Orlando is presented as the biography of a young British nobleman. The biographer’s voice is very present throughout the book, and at times the biographer shares with us the joys and difficulties of writing a biography; reading through sc... Read More

Edge: Life After Life: It shouldn’t work, but boy does it

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

What is it that drives us to pick up and complete a novel? A plot that carefully mortars brick upon brick, each clicking neatly together giving us no choice but to wonder “but then what?” until we look up surprised to find ourselves at the end? A character so intriguing we feel compelled to follow along wherever their thoughts and actions lead us? The range and depth of emotions that buffet us as we’re swept along? Any one or two or all of these?

What in the world, then, is Kate Atkinson thinking in her newest work, Life After Life? In giving us Ursula Todd, who struts not just one life on the stage but dozens... Read More

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