Backlist Burndown: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Backlist Burndown

As a book blogger, sometimes I get so busy reading review titles and new releases that I end up missing out on a lot previously published books, so one of my goals for this year is to take more time to catch up with the backlist, especially in my personal reading pile. And it seems I’m not the only one! Backlist Burndown is a new meme started by Lisa of Tenacious Reader. Every last Friday of the month, she’ll be posting a review of a backlist book and is inviting anyone interested to do the same. Of course, you can also review backlist books any day you want, as often you want, but be sure to watch for her post at the end of the month to link up!

For this month’s Backlist Burndown, I’m reviewing…

Dark EdenDark Eden by Chris Beckett

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1 of Dark Eden

Publisher: Broadway (April 1, 2014)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Something tells me Dark Eden isn’t the kind of book you can take at face value; I have a feeling it could spawn a dozen papers on sociology and human psychology if you were inclined to analyze it. Heck, I’m sitting here writing a monster of a review for it myself. The book takes place in the far-flung future on an alien planet, but simply labeling it science fiction misses out on a lot of its themes too. In some ways, it’s almost like a hypothetical social experiment, exploring the possible outcomes if a society were to emerge on its own, completely cut off and free of influences from the rest of humankind.

This scenario begins with five human beings, stranded on a dark and icebound planet they dubbed Eden. The planet is too far from its sun and the only inhabitable areas are those where the ground is warm and the lantern trees give off light. Three of the original humans who arrived – Mehmet, Michael, and Dixon – decided to leave in their damaged spaceship to seek help from Earth, but two opted to remain behind on Eden instead. They were Angela and Tommy, who did what they could to survive while they patiently awaited rescue.

Approximately 160 years later, the story officially beings and the population of Eden has grown from 2 to 532. Collectively calling themselves “Family”, all of them are the descendants of Angela and Tommy, who had eventually settled down and raised children. All this time Family has stayed together living in the area they call Circle Valley, the site of the original circle of stones laid down by Angela to mark where the landing vehicle is supposed to return to when they come take them all back to Earth. However, with their numbers ever increasing, Circle Valley is becoming far too small for Family and the surrounding resources are becoming depleted. One teenager named John Redlantern changes everything when he proposes Family abandon their old ways to seek new expansion beyond the forest and over the mountains of Snowy Dark.

The planet of Eden is fascinating, home to a lot of bizarre flora and fauna. It is shrouded in perpetual darkness, so virtually all native species are bioluminescent. Both predator and prey animals possess two hearts, greenish blood, six limbs and sometimes tentacles with light buds at their tips. The names that Family have come up with to describe their surroundings give plenty more hints as to what their world looks like. “Snowy Dark” is what I imagine is the glacial mountainous area where nobody has ever crossed, the “Starry Swirl” they always see in the sky is likely the Milky Way, and names like “Longpool” and “Greatpool” presumably describe the various bodies of water they have nearby.

But even more fascinating are the social implications behind a group that started and emerged like Family. Maybe it’s the anthropology buff in me coming through again, but I just adore speculative stories like these that theorize on human culture and its evolution. What would happen if a small founding population of humans grew by itself completely separated from the rest of us? What would their society look like after many generations if left alone to develop on its own? They may come to adapt their own traditions, perhaps learned from the original two parents but then altered through the years so that it eventually becomes very different. Survival might take priority over all else, stifling creativity and innovation. Polygamous relationships may result from the need propagate, and it’s possible that children are raised in groups by people other than their parents.

In Dark Eden, Family either practices or shows a lot of these characteristics. Furthermore, their language has already drifted, and they have their own way of talking, which comes across as childish sometimes (if you think this might be an issue for you, I recommend the audiobook; the childlike style is much less noticeable in the narration). Words are invented, like “Newhairs” to describe teenagers, and repetition is used for emphasis, saying “dark dark” to mean “very dark”, for example. A few complex words are written out as they are spoken, like “Any Virsry” for anniversary and “veekle” for vehicle. There are also consequences from the huge genetic bottleneck. Various physical deformities and heredity disorders are present in a large proportion of Family, presumably the effects of inbreeding.

Deeper and even more fascinating still are the themes related to religion. It’s probably no coincidence that the author decided to make his characters name their planet Eden, and it’s interesting to me how Angela, whom Family called the mother of them all, eventually became an almost god-like figure to them. The story of how she and her companions became stranded on Eden, which in essence only happened five or six generations ago, has already taken on a legendary status, told and retold with reverence. Everyday objects that the original five arrived with that survived (like computer keyboards or shoes) are relics that are practically worshipped. It is believed that one day men and women will arrive from the sky and save those who have kept faithful to Angela’s vision, bringing them back to that bright and shining paradise called Earth.

Then of course, there’s John Redlantern. He’s an obnoxious and arrogant jerk, really. But because he dared to challenge the status quo, literally breaking Family traditions when he destroyed Circle of Stones, he becomes almost like a religious figure and a prophet himself, a leader who brings his followers to a new land to start a new way of life. John is highly unlikeable in this story, but you have to wonder if every stagnating society needs someone like him to shake things up. He could also be seen as the embodiment of the human spirit. What does a story like this say about us? Is it in our nature to never settle when we can always have more, to always strive for the next best thing and to constantly seek truth behind the next mountain, beyond the next valley, across the next stream? And while we’re asking these questions, how about some other tough ones, like are human populations inevitably doomed to violence and conflict? Are our social instincts to be gregarious so strong that we’ll always be so quick to shout down and shun those who threaten tradition or who don’t agree with the whole?  CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

So many questions. So much material for discussion. I love books like this.

I’m also glad that the end of the novel brings some closure. Even when you already know how things are likely to play out, it’s nice to get confirmation and so I can move on. Dark Eden can be read as a stand alone, though there is a sequel coming out soon which apparently will take place far in the future of Eden’s timeline. I’m looking forward to it so much. Will the events that happened here with John Redlantern and his faithful friends Tina, Gerry and Jeff eventually take the form of religious scripture for the generations to come, just as Angela, Tommy and their companions became a sacred figures for Family? I guess we’ll find out.

6deec-5stars

28 Comments on “Backlist Burndown: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett”

    • I usually do my backlist (i.e. non-review books that came out before the past year) in audiobook format and I was actually doing pretty good until this month. This was the only book that counted using the guidelines I set for myself, but yeah it was awesome!

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  1. I saw you reading (and LOVING) this on Goodreads, and was kind of surprised b/c I’d seen it around, but for some reason had a pretty MEH impression . . . looks like I’ll have to reevaluate. Looking forward to your thoughts on the next book 😉

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    • It’s gotten some very mixed reviews. I know a lot of people really disliked the writing/narrative style but I listened to the audiobook and was spared a lot of the annoyances, but even so it’s a very enjoyable book once you look past that to the deeper themes.

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  2. Nice review, Mogsy! This reminds me a little of what Ursula K. Le Guin does in her science fiction stories. If I’m not mistaken, she’s an anthropology enthusiast too (I think one or both of her parents might have been anthropologists), and it shows in her work. So I might have to add Dark Eden to my TBR list…

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    • I have a confession to make: I’ve never read Le Guin, which is so shameful especially since she’s a SFF master and my own husband is a huge fan of hers. I have to redouble my efforts to check out her work now, I had no idea she was an anthropology enthusiast! It was my major in college so I love everything Anthro!

      Liked by 1 person

      • *GASPS* We need to fix that!! *lol*

        Seriously, though, I’d go so far as to say Ursula K. Le Guin is my favorite writer of all time. Her Earthsea cycle is wonderful; and I’ve only read two of her science fiction works so far (The Left Hand Of Darkness and Changing Planes), but I enjoyed them both and want to read her others.

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  3. This sounds fascinating, I had no idea what this book was about. But a 5 star “Mogsy” review always makes me sit up and take notice:-D I just love the concept and I’ll have to seriously consider this one.

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  4. The one complaint I have heard a lot of for this was that made of vocabulary. But from what I can tell, it’s seems appropriate. Wouldn’t a new, young civilization have a ‘childish’ language at first? Depending on how much time passes between this and sequel, maybe their language will evolve as well.
    Also, I saw you reading this on Goodreads, and you managed to make me bump this up on my TBR 🙂

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    • Yeah the vocabulary and language was the root of a lot of criticism – I wish so many people hadn’t panned the book solely because of that though, but I can understand it really getting into the way of someone’s enjoyment. It really is jarring.

      And I’m looking forward to the sequel for that very reason. I’m sure the language would have evolved again, but what would it look like? I hope this won’t mean Mother of Eden will be hard to read!

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  5. It’snot something I would easily go because well sci-fi but it’s great to see you had such a great time with the story! I love your review and you’re making me so curious now! About the characters, the universe, and the plot! Thank you!

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  6. If I remember right I was called out by name the first time I saw a review for it. Right about when I had to start culling my tbr pile a bit due to actually time restraints. Still looks good though.

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  7. This book has so many facets that appeal to me: the stranded-on-a-hostile-planet theme, the creation of a new society with rules and language of its own, and so forth. And the fact that can be read as a stand-alone, even though a sequel is in the works, is an added bonus, because nowadays very few authors seem interested in engaging in stand-alone books… 🙂
    Thanks for a deep and thoughtful review!

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