Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
This is a gem, a true gem. Set in an accidental colony on a distant planet that the first people named Eden, the author has managed to create an original setting that is quirky, intriguing and strangely plausible.
Angela (Gela) and Tommy were stranded on an alien world where the trees hum, grow light lanterns as flowers and produce hot sap. There is no sunlight and therefore the plant life is essential for such, but the stars provide minimal illumination and many questions for the descendants of the father and mother of the small community of 532 hardy souls.
The animals are like nothing to be found on earth (obviously). Some have two hearts, six limbs and hands on feelers which they use to graze. Others, such as the ‘leopards’, sing to their prey. There is danger for humans everywhere, but they have managed to carve out an increasingly precarious existence amidst it all.
John Redlantern is a sixteen year old boy who thinks differently from the rest. He pushes the boundaries of what is allowed in the tightly-knit and backward society. John is tired of how the community merely exists without trying to improve their circumstances. But change must come, as the population is growing too large for the forest they inhabit and yet the elders refuse to consider that there is more than what they see and know. John desperately wants to change their minds.
This story-line is sensational in that it presents us with a wondrous land with totally outlandish features, yet it cannot be discounted as it is, after all, alien. The possibilities are endless. Space exploration is a genre that has no limits, literally as well as figuratively, and Beckett exploits this potential beautifully.
The people of Eden suffer from the deformities associated with inbreeding. Although John is one of those who have escaped such disabilities, others are not so fortunate. John’s family friend, Jeff, has ‘clawfeet’, a common ailment. Others suffer from various severities of hare-lip and are known, unkindly as ‘Batfaces’. Many more are of a low intellect. It is the superstitious nature of the society that the long deceased Tommy and Angela left behind that constrains the people as they await a fabled rescue from the mythological Earth, a place that they know of only through legend and tale passed down from the founding two.
The ‘newhairs’ (pubescent youths) and adults have sex much as bonobos do, that is to say, with a casual indifference. There are laws in lace which are strictly adhered to, but not everyone is comfortable with them.
It is John who finally decides to take drastic action to shake the people from their apathetic slumber before it is too late. His methods provoke an angry response which sees John expelled from the community to take his chances in the forest alone. But young Redlantern is charismatic and attracts others to him. Soon he has created his own small group of newhairs who are freed from the antiquated thinking of the adults. They progress rapidly.
I loved Dark Eden.The depictions of the land and scenery were vivid and enticing. There was a claustrophobic feel to the story in large parts, reflecting the nature of the closed society that the people created. John’s intent, and the youths he gathered around him, are of great interest. There’s an interesting mix of personalities throughout the story that helps to capture the imagination.
The new group eventually find themselves with no option but to try to cross the Dark – an unknown expanse of blackness- to find new land, if there is any. It all makes for an exciting adventure which I believe that you’ll enjoy. Further elaboration upon the story-line and all that they discover may detract from your pleasure of Dark Eden, so I won’t risk it.
I will say that it has been a time since any book has so thoroughly excited my imagination. Dark Eden is unique, in my experience, in designing an entire world that truly is completely alien, yet accessible for all that.
Would I like to live there?
No. But I would like to visit Eden on my holidays, not a standard package tour, mind you, but one I planned myself. What a vacation that would be. Eden is almost as weird and full of strange creatures as Hollywood, although I’d say in Eden they have a greater morality…
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Highly recommended by Rebel Voice, regardless of whether or not you enjoy space tales. This story is, at its heart, about people. The setting simply provides a wonderful backdrop. Dark Eden is also a strong commentary upon fundamentalist religions and societies.