Today’s book review looks at a world with no sun, where human colonists fight to survive against a hostile environment and the challenges of a very limited gene pool. It makes for a departure on the traditional sci-fi theme.
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett was recently nominated for the Arthur C Clarke award and has now taken that award on a very competitive short-list.
You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees, hunting woollybuck and harvesting tree candy. Beyond the forest lie the treeless mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among you recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross between worlds. One day, the Oldest say, they will come back for you. You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, beneath the light and warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of a startlingly alien, sunless world. After 163 years and six generations of incestuous inbreeding, the Family is riddled with deformity and feeblemindedness. Your culture is a infantile stew of half-remembered fact and devolved ritual that stifles innovation and punishes independent thought. You are John Redlantern. You will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. You will be the first to abandon hope, the first to abandon the old ways, the first to kill another, the first to venture in to the Dark, and the first to discover the truth about Eden.
Dark Eden pushes many uncomfortable buttons and pushes them very hard. It’s an exploration of human society on its simplest level and I couldn’t help but be put in mind of “Lord of the Flies” which Dark Eden has some similarity to. The slow and inevitable breakdown of society was written very well, with the utopian ideals being eroded not by the environment (although its quite hostile) but the human condition.
John Redlantern, one of the main characters is the central point of the book and Chris writes it in the first person, from the position of John and a few other members of “the family”. I found myself fluctuating between liking and disliking him, which was I believe intentional by the author as John explores not only Eden but also the human condition.
There can be no doubt there are religious undertones here. The almost “Adam & Eve” origins of the colony and with stories from Earth being passed down in a increasingly inaccurate format, one cannot help but wonder if Chris Beckett is making a statement about religion in the real world.
It is very easy to see why Chris Beckett won the Arthur C Clarke award. Without the fantastic future technology, he has managed to create an intelligent, thought provoking piece of science fiction which whilst complete in terms of story, there’s certainly room for a sequel if desired.
There’s also a massive thumbs up to Lord of the Rings in this book, to which I’d love to know if this was intentional by Mr Beckett.
Dark Eden will appeal to fans of science fiction and those that are not, it’s one of the reasons why this book is so special and I think whatever your favourite genre, you’ll be missing out if you pass over this title.
A great read, thoroughly recommended.