Edge of Dark: Humanity vs. the natural and the unnatural

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In Edge of Dark, Brenda Cooper comes back to the world she created in her RUBY’S SONG duology. In it, humanity has driven AI robots to the edge of the galaxy — to the titular “Edge of Dark” — and maintained their own perimeter of ships and space stations, called The Glittering, around habitable planets, keeping warmth and life to themselves. However, the robots (called, ominously, The Next) have come back, invading a lone scientific space station, killing most of the crew, and uploading the consciousnesses of a chosen few into “soulbot” bodies. As a result of this, human and robot denizens of the three worlds — the planets, the Glittering, and the Edge — are thrown together in a tense political, environmental, and metaphysical drama that spans the galaxy.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen Battlestar Galactica. Much of what Cooper is doing here echoes the themes of that series: the human race in search of a home, governance and power that spans planets and spaceships; and the perceived threat of sentient robots. However, Edge of Dark doesn’t feel derivative. Cooper doesn’t spend much time on religion or mythology — one of the hallmarks of BSG and, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating aspects of the series. However, she has her own interesting insights into this situation.

Edge of Dark spends a lot of time with one character, Chrystal, who has been turned into one of The Next against her will. We learn what it’s like to become a robot after being human. Chrystal mourns the loss of her human body, of the joys of food and sex and physical sensation. She also mourns the loss of a human perspective as her mind slowly acclimates to its new form; she learns a new way of thinking and being. While she never fully celebrates her robot abilities — such as merging consciounesses — in the book, she begins to accept them as her new reality. I was very interested in Chrystal’s story; Cooper defines some aspects of humanity that we often overlook in our discussions of what it means to be human.

I also liked the story and perspective of Charlie Windar, the ranger from Lym, one of the habitable planets. Charlie is sworn to protect Lym’s natural resources and wild beauty from human and Next alike. From hints in the novel, we understand that Lym has been ravaged by over-mining, over-harvesting, and pollution, time and time again. While Cooper does not harp on this theme, Charlie’s fierce dedication and bond to his home speaks to the author’s environmental focus.

I was least interested in the third protagonist, Nona, a child of privilege living on Diamond Deep, one of the largest space stations. She comes from the line of Ruby (the heroine of Cooper’s earlier series) and, once her parents die, it is expected that she will take some position of command. She is pulled in many different directions: Chrystal, the new Next, is her best friend, while Charlie, the Lym environmentalist, is a new love interest. I understand that a young woman, on the threshold of autonomy and possibility and faced with too many choices, could find this situation overwhelming. However, I read her as wishy-washy, whiny, and a bit boring.

This could be an effect of Cooper’s writing. It was clear and precise, often descriptive, but I felt it lacked emotional affect. This works very well for Chrystal’s narration, of course, but not for the rest of the book. As I’ve said in previous reviews, though, this aspect of writing is so subjective; in the past, other reviewers have called Cooper’s writing “lush, sensual, emotionally driven.” Even with the sense of emotional distance from the characters, I would still recommend Edge of Dark to people interested in stories of space exploration or artificial intelligence and its consequences.

Publication Date: March 3, 2015. What if a society banished its worst nightmare to the far edge of the solar system, destined to sip only dregs of light and struggle for the barest living. And yet, that life thrived? It grew and learned and became far more than you ever expected, and it wanted to return to the sun. What if it didn’t share your moral compass in any way? The Glittering Edge duology describes the clash of forces when an advanced society that has filled a solar system with flesh and blood life meets the near-AI’s that it banished long ago. This is a story of love for the wild and natural life on a colony planet, complex adventure set in powerful space stations, and the desire to live completely whether you are made of flesh and bone or silicon and carbon fiber. In Edge of Dark, meet ranger Charlie Windar and his adopted wild predator, and explore their home on a planet that has been raped and restored more than once. Meet Nona Hall, child of power and privilege from the greatest station in the system, the Diamond Deep. Meet Nona’s best friend, a young woman named Chrystal who awakens in a robotic body….

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KATE LECHLER, on our staff from May 2014 to January 2017, resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. She loves speculative fiction because of what it tells us about our past, present, and future. She particularly enjoys re-imagined fairy tales and myths, fabulism, magical realism, urban fantasy, and the New Weird. Just as in real life, she has no time for melodramatic protagonists with no sense of humor. The movie she quotes most often is Jurassic Park, and the TV show she obsessively re-watches (much to the chagrin of her husband) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her personal blog is The Rediscovered Country and she tweets @katelechler.

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One comment

  1. I didn’t realize at first that this was a new series. You and I share a problem with Cooper’s work; the emotional affect fell short for me in the Ruby series.

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