Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett
Publisher: Corvus Books
400 pages, Kindle Edition
Published January 2012
While the ideas behind this novel aren’t particularly new, it is a rather unique take on the scifi story of colonizing another planet. In the case here, the science fiction events of leaving Earth, crossing interstellar space, and landing on an alien planet all take place in the past. The setting here is roughly two generations in the future, where the inbred and increasingly crowded population that arose from a single woman and single man thrive in relative ignorance of what it is to be human, and what exactly life on Earth is like.
This colonization did not proceed purposefully, but as an act of rebellion that didn’t go as planned, leaving two people stranded on an alien world and three making a desperate attempt to make it home to Earth, promising to send help. The offspring of those stranded individuals, that Adam and Eve, if you will, live in a hope of ritual and myth that Earth will come for them one day to take them to their true home. But, some of the younger generation begins to question these myths, and more importantly, what the population should do on this alien planet while waiting for an uncertain future.
This plot set up is fascinating, and chapter by chapter I was eager to see where the story would go, despite the fact that it proceeds rather predictably. The story is told through point of view chapters covering a handful of key characters, notably the main protagonist and a young girl who supports him. Written from this point of view of humans who live on an alien planet in deep ignorance and myth, the language of the book works fabulously well. Unfortunately, however, no individual character ends up sounding particularly unique, leaving me flipping back to a chapter’s start to remind myself whose POV I was now following.
Nonetheless, the strength of the novel lies in its general characterization of humanity. “Dark Eden” chronicles the redevelopment of a human civilization in all of its ugliness: a departure from close-knit family hunter gatherers to something with far greater potential and darkness alike. The people here are at the earliest stages of intellectual and technological developments, giving a new freedom to life and a greater sense of the reality in which they live. Yet at the same time this new knowledge and ability creates strife and murder. In this way the novel is indeed a simple retooling of the classic stories of something like Genesis, a repeat of the Garden of Eden for humanity, now on another world in the universe. The characters are all suitably complex and interesting, they seem to have the best intentions for the group as a whole, yet have aspects of selfishness, an ego linked to their brilliance.
Another strength of the novel is in the description of life on this alien world. The biology is intriguing and Beckett uses a language rich in sensory description, particularly onomatopoeia, to bring the reader into this fascinating alien environment where these all-too-familiar humanity finds itself. Despite some flaws, this novel has a lot of excellent characteristics going for it and ultimately I really enjoyed entering this world and watching the story unfold. The ending occurs somewhat arbitrarily, leading one to easily imagine future stories set in this world, a prospect I would welcome if new themes could be explored the way Beckett addresses elements of “the Fall” here.
Though originally I gave this four stars on Goodreads, it has stayed with me since, and its power in that regard makes five stars reasonable.