Chris Beckett - Dark Eden
Riveting and imaginative sci-fi novel set on a planet of perpetual darkness
One of the key skills for any sci-fi writer is the ability to create new worlds. They can be wildly different from our own, however it’s the ability to change the variables but still write characters that act in a believable way that is at the core of some of the best in science fiction.
In Dark Eden Chris Beckett conjures up a planet sheathed in perpetual darkness where the survivors of a crashed exploration from Earth have multiplied and now eek out a fragile existence in the all pervading blackness. And his creation is wonderfully realised, from the flora and fauna to the twisted geography that have all been moulded by this absence of light.
Beckett also takes a commonly referenced hypothetical as a starting point: imagining what would really happen if an entire planet had to be repopulated by the only man and woman left alive. Extrapolating from this central idea Dark Eden is set several generations after Angela and Tommy became marooned on this world of never ending night, giving rise to a new society rife with genetic abnormalities due to inbreeding (though Beckett never over exaggerates this for effect) and steeped in its own half-remembered traditions.
Through this Beckett also brings to light how little we understand of our own world. They might have travelled to Eden in a spaceship but once alone Angela and Tommy soon realise how little they truly understand the workings of modern life. We take for granted the metals, plastics and electricity we rely on, but as individuals we have little understanding of the production processes involved in harnessing these components. Therefore inevitably they have gone back to the primitive, a hunter gather society sitting in the dark waiting for earth to come to their rescue.
Told in the first person, mainly from the perspective of John Redlantern -- a teenager who isn’t content to wait, rocking the entire ‘Family’ with bold new ideas and a desire for something more, something new – the narrative jumps to key characters or even bit players for various chapters. This also means it’s told through their language. At first the vocal ticks of repeating words for emphasis (‘cold cold’ or ‘dark dark’ as just two examples) can be irritating but as you become accustomed to the flow of their speech (as well as the odd bit of slang) you realise how clever a narrative device this is. It draws you deeper into their worldview. Even their vocabulary has started to erode in the pitch blackness and this is how they comprehend the world around them. We are seeing out of the character’s eyes as they try to decipher what they find before them, taking you deeper into their existence, beyond being just an observer but into their mindset.
Not only is this a gripping sci-fi story, it’s the abundance of ideas that take Dark Eden to the next level. The key theme being the evolution of society and in particular the birth of religion and how history can transform into mythology as the lines between fact and fiction blur. The theological theme continues in obvious parallels with the stories of Adam & Eve and Cain & Abel, but Beckett isn’t preaching, just breaking down the idea of religion as a concept. A fascinating, incredibly clever and riveting read. This is only Beckett’s second novel and at this rate he could soon be counted amongst some of great sci-fi writers.