One hundred and sixty-three years ago, a starship called Defiant tried to leave Earth’s orbit as a police vehicle desperately pursued it. The police vessel was taken on board the larger ship as Defiant fell through a wormhole or other space anomaly and launched across space to a strange planet where life had developed despite the lack of a large light giving star. Three members of Defiant’s marginally volunteer crew opted to leave this new place and return to Earth for rescue aid; however, Angela and Tommy chose to stay behind on this new planet and try to make a life while they wait for help. The new home is dubbed Eden, and from this one couple, an inbred and primitive society is born. The Family is content to stay near the Circle of Stones created by their Mother, Angela, and wait for Earth until a young man named John Redlantern dares to believe that there could be life beyond the frozen wastes north of their settlement and becomes a catalyst for change in a stagnant world order.
In Dark Eden author Chris Beckett takes the basis of the creation myth and turns it into a uniquely sci-fi epic that almost feels like a children’s story due to the low-tech society at the heart of the tale. Eden is mysterious and other without using strange technology to emphasize the cold, darkness of the new world, and the Family both intrigues and repels me with their clinging to partial knowledge about Earth and their primitive ways. Even his protagonist, John, is not entirely likeable; he is smart, free of physical ailments, and driven, but he is also emotionally withdrawn, stubborn, and overly proud. Somehow, all these contradictions and imperfections meld together to create a thoroughly engaging story that kept me turning pages to reach the conclusion.
Beckett uses a series of narrators in Dark Eden which helps fill the gaps between each individual’s knowledge and experience. For example, I was better able to see John’s faults through Tina’s analysis of his actions, and the adults in Family provided different viewpoints from the newhairs and children; however, John clearly is the heart of the tale, because his actions and thoughts are the catalyst for change in Eden, and while I didn’t actually count who had the most narrative segments, I suspect John has a few more than any other character.
I didn’t enjoy the writing style at first, because there are several new words and childish repetitions such as “bad bad” to describe something especially terrible; however, as I learned more about the structure of Family and began piecing together their history, everything made sense. By the time I’d read two or three chapters, I was hooked, and the writing flowed easily as I immersed myself in the world.
The world building in Dark Eden is amazingly detailed; Beckett devises creatures and plants that could survive and thrive on a dark planet as well as roughly explain how their evolution might be possible. Like blind cave dwellers, all of the animals rely on alternate senses to forage and flourish, and many emit light to some degree. Almost all of the plants can be used as dim light sources, and I’m a little jealous of having flowers that can be used as lamps since they sound much more beautiful than light bulbs. Not all of Beckett’s new world is helpful to the human invaders, though. Some animals are fierce predators, and many plants have boiling sap that causes third-degree burns to bare skin. The author also explores how matrilineal societies may morph into patrilineal ones over time and does an excellent job explaining the societal norms and relationships between parents and children, siblings, and sexual partners. As a result, the structure of Family feels real, as many parts reflect older Earth societies.
My only complaint with the book is that the ending seemed very sudden, although the main tale had reached a stopping place. There is definitely more room for exploration of the terrain of Dark Eden if Beckett chooses to do so, and I would eagerly read another book in this universe or any other the author opts to create. Overall, anyone with the slightest interest in sci-fi, coming-of-age stories, or modernized myths should give Dark Eden a try. It will make you think about and appreciate the sun a lot more, plus it’s just a really engaging adventure.
4.5 Uses of Lecky-Trickity out of 5