Dark Eden

Dark Eden

Paperback - 2014
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A marooned outpost of humanity struggles to survive on a startlingly alien world.
Publisher: New York : Broadway Books, [2014]
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780804138680
0804138680
Branch Call Number: BECKETT C
Characteristics: 441 pages ; 21 cm

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SCL_Justin Jul 24, 2017

Chris Beckett’s book Dark Eden felt like it was going to be a lot like The Knife of Never Letting Go when it began. It’s about a small community called Family on a planet with no sun, but warmth comes from the trees that extrude from the ground. They struggle through their lives trying to gather enough food to keep them going another day. Every AnyVirsry they tell stories of Hitler and Jesus fighting over the Juice, and the three companions who came and settled Eden from Earth in their Veekle, and how if they stay right by the Circle when the ones who left for help return from Earth they’ll be able to get them.

Family has been waiting for the people to return from Earth for 160-ish years.

The story begins with 15-year-old (though they don’t naturally talk in terms of years or days, not having a sun, but wombtimes and wakings) John Redlantern asking why they do things the same way they’ve always done them. Why don’t they try to do something new? The rest of the book is about what happens when John Redlantern tries to do something new. Which is cool and the stuff of many an adventure tale. That’s not where Dark Eden stops though.

What makes the book great is that it really gets into what an asshole John Redlantern is, and how he manipulates people, and how that’s a part of the myth he’s creating for himself. It’s done by giving chapters to a number of other characters, some of whom are more aware of the importance of things than others. The moral ambiguity of everything in this book makes almost everyone sympathetic. John Redlantern is the kind of quintessential frontier-pushing explorer, and this story doesn’t just hold that up as a model of what people should be, but how that can break people. Killing a person was unheard of on New Eden, and they had no word for rape.

The other thing I love about the book is how it tries to avoid imposing 21st century Western moral scruples on things. Everybody has sex with everybody, and there are loads of batfaced and clawfooted people resulting from 160 years of breeding from the two people who started human life on New Eden. Sex is really interesting and eventually when things get more tense in Family you can see the germs of patriarchy and sexual control of women start to arise. There’s an incident where a character is almost raped and the way they dance around giving that act of violence a name is so intriguing.

All in all, it’s a great book and also has things to say about how we build the stories of a society and how we use the stories as well. If you’re interested in science fiction you should really give this a try.

l
ladymeag
Jun 15, 2016

I kept reading hoping that this story would redeem itself. It does not.

r
Russ_A
May 28, 2015

It took a while for this very different sci-fi book to grow on me. The setting is a distant planet called Eden, where some marooned astronauts landed and began a new society. Of the five humans who landed, four men and one woman, three were rogue astronauts who decided to try flying through some sort of wormhole and two were the Orbital Police who were trying to stop them when they involuntarily got taken through the hole to what turned out to be Eden. The policewoman and one of the astronauts stayed behind to populate the new planet while the other three set off to seek rescue from Earth. The story begins five generations later, with a small “Family” all descended from the same pair, and showing various inbreeding mutations. It is a hunter/gatherer society on a sunless planet that derives its only light from stars and glowing lantern-trees. The story is told from the viewpoint of several different characters, but at least keeps in chronological order, which makes it easy to follow.

The language threw me off at first. It is very stylized to represent what the author imagines English could become in such an isolated society detached from Earth not only distance but also by any experience with a modern society of any kind. To emphasize words, especially modifiers, they repeat them, as in “it felt strange strange to be doing …” and other corruptions like “veekle” (vehicle), Secret Ree (Secretary), etc. abounded. I almost gave up on page 2 because of this, but after a few dozens pages you fall into the rhythm of their speech. It was refreshing in a way.

The plot had its holes, but I’ll refrain from spoilers and leave it at that. The main character, John Redlantern, is reminiscent of Ayla in Jean Auel’s Earth Children series, in that he and one other character seem to invent (or reinvent) all of modern society’s major achievements in a period of days or weeks – a yearning for exploration, animal husbandry, shoes and other clothing, homicide, to name a few. Despite these flaws, the story had me drawn in from the beginning and enabled me to lose myself in this strange, imaginary world.

n
nwesterman
May 26, 2015

I disagree with the Publishers Weekly review. Rather than hewing too closely to historical (earth) patterns, I think the inevitable development of powerful struggles reinforces human universalities.

As for technology being too easily recreated, I think one must remember that these people have an oral tradition of earth technology on which to draw - they are not like our paleolithic ancestors, developing technology from an initial vacuum.

It's true that these books fall more into a young adult style than some other more sophisticated, nuanced dystopic/sci-fi novels, but in their class, they are quite enjoyable, and certainly far more engaging than some of the formulaic YA dystopian novels now available.

j
JohnHy
Jul 08, 2014

An extraordinary book.And not another dystopia tale.

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ladymeag
Jun 15, 2016

ladymeag thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

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