Author: Chris Beckett
Genre: Science Fiction
In my home holiday time is reading time, a chance to catch up on the growing digital pile of reading material that I just kept on buying throughout the year like I had all the time in the world for leisurely pursuits. Having been blown away by Adrian Tchaikovksy’s Children of Time I decided to see if anything else on the list of Arthur C. Clarke Award winners grabbed my attention, and Dark Eden seemed like a reasonably safe bet.
And so I lost myself in another culture on a different planet for the two days that I only put this book down to sleep and make the occasional snack.
160 years ago Angela and Tommy found themselves stuck on Eden, a sunless rogue planet, after their companions Mehmet, Michael, and Dixon attempted to make their way back to a damaged spaceship and then to Earth to call for help. But help has been very slow in arriving.
In the 160 years that have passed Angela and Tommy’s 532 descendants have developed a matriarchal society (Family) whose sole purpose is to stay close to the initial landing site where Angela and Tommy landed on Eden and to “maintain the ways of Earth” so that when help arrives from the home world they will be deserving of rescue and a place on a planet where light streams down from the sky.
John Redlantern, who recently entered his teenage years, doesn’t agree with the highly conservative teachings of Family, and knows that if it continues to grow at its current rate it will rapidly outgrow the valley it calls home and deplete its already limited food source. By going against all the wisdom and teachings handed down he will eventually break Family and commit atrocities never before seen on Eden, and in doing so hopefully ensure the survival of humans on this dark little planet.
The Writing Style
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of everything there is one issue that you should consider if you’re thinking of picking this book up, and one which many Amazon reviewers have taken exception to – the language spoken on Eden. The way in which the various characters speak is relatively unsophisticated, and admittedly takes a bit of getting used to in the first few chapters. The reason for this is that Eden was settled by two adults and their later offspring – what you essentially have is a mixed dialect based on the speech patterns and sayings of Londoners (from Angela) and Brooklynites (from Tommy) and heavily influenced by baby-speak, which in turn is being used to describe an alien world. While it takes a bit of getting used to it’s (1) entirely worthwhile because the story is amazing, and (2) lends far greater understanding later on to the way in which the characters see their world.
What I truly enjoyed about Beckett’s writing is just how simultaneously amazing and horrible Eden is. Nearly all life on the planet is bio-luminescent, including its trees, which is how humans are able to see despite the lack of a star, and most of the trees are geothermal, which keeps the planet warm enough for habitation. That covers a lot of the scientific ground, but the thought of living life in perpetual night with absolutely no chance of a sun ever rising is absolutely terrifying. Equally horrifying is the fact that all the animals on Eden have been named after an Earth equivalent. For example, leopards are known to hunt on the periphery of the area inhabited by Family – except these leopards are six-legged, furless creatures with bio-luminescent stripes, feelers around their mouths, and flat, black, unblinking eyes; the people of Eden may not know the difference, but the reader sure as hell does.
The culture and people are also incredibly well described, again in a way that is a wonder and truly horrifying. If nothing else 160 years of non-stop inbreeding has taken its toll, and its reasonably common to find adults with the mental capacity of infants. Equally problematic are genetic issues inherited from Tommy and Angela, coupled with the fact that nutrition on Eden is in short supply, resulting in numerous children being born with cleft lips and palates (‘Batfaces’) and club feet (‘Claw Feet’). Again, the people of Eden know no different, and have formed a societal hierarchy based on limited knowledge that includes and makes provision for all the members of Family while simultaneously trying to reduce the number of children born with such limitations, but for the reader it’s difficult since we understand that inbreeding is dangerous (and have enough options on Earth to avoid it), and that medical issues like a cleft lip can be easily treated.
What really struck me while reading Dark Eden was this sense of people being completely out-of-place. While Eden may be technically habitable it’s a world that was never meant to accommodate creatures like humans – the reader knows that, and the people of Eden know that as well. But coupled with this is the conflict that forms the crux of the entire story – do you stay in one place and hope that things will magically get better, or do you strike out and make the best of a bad situation?
What really helped in creating this sense of isolation and being out-of-place is the fact that, unlike almost all other books in this genre, Tommy and Angela were not scientists. Eden wasn’t intentionally colonised by highly skilled individuals who would know how to adapt their environment to be more suitable for human habitation – Tommy was some kind of thief and Angela was a police officer, so they have no scientific knowledge to pass onto their children and brought nothing with them to make life on Eden any easier. For example, the people of Eden have a rudimentary idea of what electricity is, but have no idea where it comes from or how to generate it because Tommy and Angela, much like most people, would have known how to use it, not how to make it. This creates a culture beholden to ideals of Earth without actually knowing exactly what those ideals are, let alone how to accomplish them.
By the author’s own admittance you could probably rip many a hole through the probability of this book, but in reality Dark Eden is more a sociological adventure than one based on hard science fiction, and I look forward to reading its sequels and seeing where this world takes me.
My Final Rating: 8 / 10
Buy Dark Eden at Amazon.com