Dark Eden: Lord of the Flies in Space

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDark Eden by Chris Beckett fantasy book reviewsDark Eden by Chris Beckett

Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden has a backstory to rival the book of Genesis. Several generations ago, two humans, Tommy and Gela, survived a crash-landing on a planet without a sun. The planet was not devoid of life or light, though; glowing plants and animals survived by feeding off of the planet’s thermal energy. On this new planet, which they called Eden, Tommy and Gela have children, becoming the Adam and Eve of a new race of humans.

Now, generations later, their progeny, several dozen people, many of whom are afflicted with birth defects and called “batfaces” or “clawfeet,” live huddled together in a relatively safe area of Eden, frightened to explore beyond the snowy mountains or deep waters that border their land. A young man, John Redlantern, wants to change that. Defying the orders of the clan’s leader, David, the charismatic John gathers a group of dissenters and goes in search of the Veekle, the space-craft that crashed, hoping for answers about Earth and a potential rescue.

Dark Eden tells the story of an innocent civilization on the brink of a bloody schism. Like the story of Cain and Abel, it shows us the shock and horror of a culture that experiences human violence for the first time—and how inevitable violence is anytime two worldviews collide. Redlantern and his group experience setbacks and victories on their epic journey into the unknown, and the fearmongering David is all all too recognizable to any reader today as the force holding back change, discovery, and human progress. It reminded me of Lord of the Flies, except that John and David have to live with the consequences of their violence rather than being rescued and returned to childhood.

Beckett’s inventive world-building, creating a sunless planet that still sustains life, was fascinating if a little slow at times. I liked seeing the different animals and plants that he created. Hearing them described through the perspectives of characters who have never known anything else was like solving a puzzle: what does this animal look like? But I have to confess that one of his world-building tactics got on my nerves. Beckett is writing in multiple perspectives, using first-person point of view. Because of this perspective, he is limited to the vocabulary of his characters, all of whom have been separated from Earth civilization (and thus, much formalized education) for generations.  This made his language lack a sort of poetry that I enjoy in books in 3rd person, or coming from 1st person narrators with more education and finesse. Also, in order to establish dialect, Beckett has his characters use certain speech tics, like doubled adjectives (“big-big” or “shiny-shiny”) for emphasis. I found this incredibly annoying at first.

Dark Eden — (2012-2016) On the alien, sunless planet they call Eden, the 532 members of the Family take shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees. Beyond the Forest lie the mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among the Family recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross the stars. These ships brought us here, the Oldest say—and the Family must only wait for the travelers to return. But young John Redlantern will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. He will abandon the old ways, venture into the Dark…and discover the truth about their world. Already remarkably acclaimed in the United Kingdom, Dark Eden is science fiction as literature: part parable, part powerful coming-of-age story, set in a truly original alien world of dark, sinister beauty and rendered in prose that is at once strikingly simple and stunningly inventive.


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KATE LECHLER, on our staff from May 2014 to January 2017, resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. She loves speculative fiction because of what it tells us about our past, present, and future. She particularly enjoys re-imagined fairy tales and myths, fabulism, magical realism, urban fantasy, and the New Weird. Just as in real life, she has no time for melodramatic protagonists with no sense of humor. The movie she quotes most often is Jurassic Park, and the TV show she obsessively re-watches (much to the chagrin of her husband) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her personal blog is The Rediscovered Country and she tweets @katelechler.

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2 comments

  1. The 1st-person narrative is what prevented me from getting too far into this book, though I may be willing to give it another try at some later point.

  2. I snorted when I read “Veekle.”

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