Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Dark Eden (2014)

Dark Eden. Chris Beckett. 2014. Crown Publishing Group. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Dark Eden is a science fiction novel. It is set on an alien world, a sunless world. It has been colonized by one renegade human ship. Two chose to stay, one man, one woman. Three chose to try to return to Earth even though their ship was a bit damaged. Dark Eden opens over a hundred and sixty years later. The descendants of those two original survivors now number just over five hundred. Dark Eden is mainly narrated by "newhairs" like John Redlantern and Tina Spiketree.

John Redlantern is definitely the hero of Dark Eden. He is an ambitious, slightly rebellious young "newhair" that wants more. He wants to cross the Dark and explore the planet, he wants to move beyond "the Circle" of Family. He doesn't want to stay in the same tiny spot of land that the starship happened to land in all those years ago. He wants to head into the Unknown and see for himself what else there is out there. He does not want to spend his entire life waiting and waiting for rescue from Earth that may not come in his lifetime, or his children's lifetime. It turns out he is not the only restless spirit among the newhairs. But only John is rash enough to ACT and force change. Will he be strong enough to lead when it matters most?

Did I like Dark Eden? It was an interesting enough read in some ways, but I also found it predictable.

Perhaps the best way to approach Dark Eden is with realistic expectations. You can read an excerpt for yourself from this site.
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.
With phrases like "science fiction as literature" and "truly original" and "strikingly simple" and "stunningly inventive" it wasn't quite fair to the book or the reader. "Science fiction as literature" is a strange phrase to begin with, in my opinion. As if genre science fiction is lesser in value than "science fiction as literature." Is Dark Eden literary? I'm not a fair judge of that at all. Since I tend to think that what passes for literary these days is less than extraordinary. (I can tell you that Dark Eden uses crude words liberally. Yes, that is just my opinion that certain words are crude. But when they are used heavily on almost every page, or every other page, it becomes harder to ignore.)

I'll give you a sample of the prose and let you judge for yourself if it is "strikingly simple" and "stunningly inventive."
"I'll tell you a funny thing, I said, "when we saw those woolly-bucks up there on the snow, I thought for a moment they were a Landing Veekle from Earth. Hah! That was pretty dumb of me, wasn't it?"
Gerry laughed.
"Tom's dick, John! You just killed a leopard!"
"But I suppose one waking someone will come, won't they? They say the starship was damaged when Angela and Michael chased after it in their Police Veekle and tried to stop it. They say it leaked. But even if the starship broke on the way back, and even if the Three Companions died, the people on Earth would find it sooner or later, wouldn't they? I mean it had a Computer, didn't it, and a Rayed Yo? Okay it's two hundred wombtimes ago now that they left Eden. But think how long it must take to build a new starship. I mean it takes old Jeffo half a wombtime just to build one lousy log boat to fish with out on Greatpool."
Gerry took my shoulders and shook me.
"Gela's tits, John, will you stop talking about bloody sky-boats! You've killed a leopard! All by yourself! with a kid's spear!"
It was weird weird. The leopard was still twitching in front of me, I was covered with its black blood, and I was shaking shaking all over. (24, ARC)
I was torn, torn all the time. We weren't going to be safe where we were forever. We had to move as soon as we could, and that meant finding a way over Dark. So I was desperate desperate all the time to get up there, and I was working working all the time on how to do it, how to make better wraps, how to light our way. But at the same time, and for the same reason, we had to watch out for attack from Family. (253, from ARC)
At the end of a waking, two sleeps after he did for that leopard, me and John Redlantern walked up along Dixon Stream. We climbed the rocks beyond London and Blueside fence until Deep Pool was there below us, shining with wavyweed and water lanterns and bright beds of oysters. (62, ARC)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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