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 Fifth Heart: Moving and thoughtful

The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons

There are several issues with Dan Simmons’ new novel, The Fifth Heart. It’s too long for one, its 600+ pages probably a good 100-150 pages too many. Simmons has fallen too much in love with his research, slowing the book in multiple places. He drops one of the more intriguing storylines a bit too easily. And the mystery/resolution are a bit anti-climactic. That said, The Fifth Heart still works as a smart literary mix of adventure, historical fiction, and metafiction, even if it could have been better with some pruning.

The year is 1893 and Henry James, depressed over his career, his fast-approaching mid-century birthday, and the recent death of his sister is about to commit suicide by stepping into the Seine River when a man steps out of the shadows and interrupts him. The man, to James’ surprise, is Sherlock Holmes, whom Jam... Read More

Brave New World: Be careful what you wish for

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

We all know Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as a classic dystopian tale of a world bereft of conflict, pain, and hardship — but also lacking individuality, free will, and intellectual thought. You were probably forced to read it in high school (I somehow missed it) and if you were a normal teen it must be have been either very weird or strangely appealing (unlimited free drugs and sex, a carefree life, etc.). Granted, it's a brilliant critique of the early socialist utopias penned by H.G. Wells, after which Europe was engulfed in World War I and the Russian Revolution. So it was with much cynicism that Huxley must have written his story in 1932 to debunk the naive fantasies socialists and libertarians had that humanity would solve all economic and social ills and create a perfect society.
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Nineteen Eighty-Four: A powerful and prescient warning

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Along with Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, first published in 1949, is the one of the most powerful and important dystopian novels ever written, and unquestionably a work of science fiction thanks to its depiction of a future totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of its citizens’ mental and physical existence. It’s hard to imagine any educated person in the English-speaking world who hasn’t heard the terms Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, and Newspeak, even if they’re not sure exactly what the terms mean. It’s also likely that many readers were exposed to Nineteen Eighty-Four in high school English or Humanities class... Read More

The Girl In The Red Coat: Chillingly compulsive

The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer

Any mother’s worst nightmare is losing her child. We’ve all heard it before. It’s a phrase used often, almost casually, yet it doesn’t even begin to cover what it must actually feel like to lose a child. This is precisely what happens in Kate Hamer’s dazzling debut. Told from the perspectives of a bereft mother and her abducted daughter, The Girl in the Red Coat has two of the most hauntingly distinctive voices in fiction so far this year. It will have you turning pages in horrified awe until you’ve reached the last page in one sitting.

Carmel Wakeford has always been a slightly fey girl, often getting lost or wandering off on her own. Her single mother, Beth, recently divorced from Carmel’s father, has always suspected her daughter was slightly...different. She’d also always had an unnatural fear that she would lose Carmel. ... Read More

EDGE: The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

[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 World Before Us
, by Aislinn Hunter, has at its core two roughly similar mysteries. One occurred almost 20 years ago when the main character, Jane Standen, was only fifteen and acting as a nanny for William Eliot and his five-year old daughter Lily. While in Jane’s care, Lily suddenly disappeared at the gardens of the Farrington country estate. A little more than a hundred years earlier, another girl, a young woman known only as N— went missing in roughly the same area, her disappearance noted in the records of the near... Read More

Edge: Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

[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.]

Of Things Gone Astray is Janina Matthewson’s debut novel, and it is charming and heartfelt magical realism. Using short chapters that cycle through different character perspectives, Matthewson tells the story of several people who have lost something of value to them, ranging from piano keys or the front of a house to a girlfriend or a father.  As these characters struggle with their losses, a young boy named Jake begins to find the things that are lost, developing a magical sense for where the items came from and their meaning... Read More

Edge: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

[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 don’t usually include photos of a book I’m reviewing, except for the cover, but part of the charm of Murakami’s odd little novella, The Strange Library, is its exquisite packaging. The book is published by Borzoi Books, an imprint of Knopf well known for unusual packaging, and they had a lot of fun with this one.

The Strange Library opens like a stenographer’s pad, at first. And then you turn the first page and you’re reading a conventional western book. Well, kind... Read More

The Affirmation: Literary science fiction does not get much better

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

I’ve heard Christopher Priest’s 1981 novel The Affirmation described as regressive, an ouroboros eating its own tail, a Moeibus strip. While there is undoubtedly an M.C. Escher quality to the book — a blurring of reality — the beginning and end are simply too different to form a contiguous whole reverting back on itself. They’re opposite ends of a spectrum in fact, and the appeal of the novel is immersing one’s self in the subjective reality Priest slowly unwraps and getting lost in the world of memories as a result.

The true nature of The Affirmation requires thought; the easy part is relaxing throughout the journey. Priest patiently and precisely lays down the text — words like railroad ties on a Sunday train ride to the country — the story moving effortlessly along. The sublime prose lulls the reader into the deceivingly mu... Read More

The Tricksters: A supernatural puzzle-box inside a New Zealand family drama

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand's most seminal writers, and one of only a few authors to twice-win the Carnegie Medal — first for The Haunting and then for The Changeover. As good as these books are, my personal favourite is The Tricksters, written for a slightly older audience and filled with her trademark New Zealand scenery, supernatural occurrences, family dramas and the awakening of a young person to adulthood. Older readers shouldn't be put off by the claims that this is a "young adult" novel, as any intelligent reader over the age of thirteen will enjoy what is perhaps Mahy's best work.

The Hamilton family gather at their beach house at Carnival's Hide to celebrate Christ... Read More

Edge: The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

The Frangipani Hotel  by Violet Kupersmith

[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.]

While I found most of the stories in Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel to be solidly engaging, I can’t say any of them struck me with any particular weight. They were amiable enough, and several of them had some beautiful passages of description or some sharply defined moments of characterization, and a few have a deliciously creepy supernatural element, but as much as I was mildly enjoying myself, I kept waiting for one to grab me wholly. Unfortunately, none did.

The first, “Boat Sto... Read More

Stone Mattress: Nine new tales from Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is hardly an unappreciated author. Booker winner, seemingly constant nominee for the Orange and Booker prizes, Harvard Arts Medal, Orion Book Award, and the list goes on. But one thing I’d say she doesn’t get enough credit for is her humorous touch, which can be scathingly, bitingly funny, and which is on frequent display in her newest collection of short stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Tales.

The anthology is comprised of nine “tales” (in the afterword, Atwood explains why she prefers that descriptor), the first three of which — “Alphinland”, “Revenant”, and “Dark Lady” are tightly linked by character and events. The others are independent, though they do share some similar themes and characters — vengeance, the travails (and pleasures) of aging, a deliciously macabre tone. Like nearly all such collections, some stories ... Read More

Sputnik Sweetheart: The world’s most depressing love triangle, after Twilight

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

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.

Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart is narrated by an elementary school teacher we know as “K.” K is in love with Sumire, an aspiring young writer who never feels sexual attraction for others until she meets Miu, an older woman and a wine dealer who is incapable of feeling love for others.

It’s the world’s most depressing love triangle, after Twilight.

In many ways, actually, Sputnik Sweetheart feels like a typical Haruki Muraka... Read More

The Bone Clocks: One of my favorite reads this year

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Fans of David Mitchell (of which I am definitely one) will feel right at home with his newest work, The Bone Clocks. You’ve got your chameleon-like ability to shift voice across a wide variety of genders and ages via multiple POVs, your richly vivid characterization, the literary and at times lyrical passages of internal monologue or description, spot-on dialog, an interconnected-story structure that spans time and space, the erudite use of history, and imaginative yet grittily real extrapolations of future settings and language. Weaving in and out of all this are familiar themes involving reincarnation, mortality, the predatory nature of humanity against both itself and the environment, and the idea of interconnectedness, the latter made more overt via the added pleasure for Mitchell fans of the many references to characters from earlier Mitchell books. Throw in some paranormal event... Read More

Inamorata: A darkly intriguing look at love, art, and sacrifice

Inamorata by Megan Chance

The fatal muse. She inspires artists to create sublime masterpieces, but drains away their life force in exchange, driving them to madness or an early grave. This archetype lies at the heart of Inamorata, a new paranormal tale by Megan Chance, who has previously written a number of historical fiction and romance novels.

Inamorata is set in a gorgeously rendered nineteenth-century Venice, a city long past its heyday, now crumbling picturesquely into ruin. The captivating Odilé Leon has taken up residence there in the hopes of finding a new genius to inspire. Nicholas Dane, once Odilé’s lover and now determined to destroy her, follows her there. Drawn into their orbit are beautiful American twins Joseph and Sophie Hannigan, whose troubled past has forged a more than fraternal bond between them.

You will be transported to this decadent Ve... Read More

Sepulchre: For better or worse, exactly what you’d expect from Mosse

Sepulchre by Kate Mosse

Judging from her review, Kat obviously wasn’t such a big fan of Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre! But perhaps her report coloured my own reading of the novel, for though I went in expecting the worst, I instead found myself quite enjoying it.

Sepulchre is the follow-up to Mosse’s best-selling novel Labyrinth, but I found that it was far superior in terms of pacing and plotting. As with Labyrinth, the story is divided into two storylines, one set in 1891, the other in 2007. The chapters alternate between these two periods, following the adventures of Leonie Vernier in the past, and Meredith Martin in the 21st century.

Leonie knows that something is wrong when her brother Anatole insists on secrecy in planning thei... Read More

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