16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 30 December 2013
What I love about that book that is so different. No aliens, no big spaceships, no wars, no proud human race. It's just story of forgotten small group of people, on very unusual planet, very dark. The whole story is very well constructed, picture of events is very very convincing, and it is hard to imagining it in other way. Darkness and strange mood of this book swallowed me straight away and kept until last pages. I couldn't get back to myself for a week after this book.
I can recommend it to every fan of S-F that want to try something different.
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Eden is a planet without a sun. Instead, light is generated by Eden's humming trees and its strange animals. Scratching a living in one small area of the planet is a group of several hundred humans who are descended from two astronauts from Earth who settled on Eden approximately 160 years before. Five astronauts had landed but three left to try to make it back home. The remaining two, Tommy and Angela, stayed behind and in so doing became the mother and father, grandparents and great grandparents of every man, woman and child on Eden. Divided into different family groups, such as the Redlanterns, London and Brooklyn, the people wait for the astronauts to return and take them all back home to Earth. They have little but a shared mythology, a common memory handed down like Chinese whispers, to give them comfort. But as the years go by and no-one from earth has arrived, the youngsters, the New Hairs, led by John Redlantern, decide to turn an existence into a life.
Dark Eden is one of the most extraordinary novels I've read in quite a while. Almost immediately, the powers of Beckett's description and imagination have immersed the reader fully into this eerie, dark world which is both beautiful and menacing. Fierce leopards sing exquisitely before they strike, bats hang from trees with their arms folded, watching, bucks (like cattle) have lanterns growing on their heads. But the humans fare less well. Generations of inbreeding have created people with `batfaces' and `clawfeet'. Many babies die, especially boys. Language has degenerated, adjectives have been lost - now something is `cold cold' or `hot hot' and life centres around the stories told by Eldest about Tommy and Angela, their journey from Earth and the objects they left behind, such as Car, Plane, Rayed Yo and Lecky-trickity. With such a blinkered outlook, with no ideas allowed to develop, the outlook for the Family is bleak.
Dark Eden tells the story of what is nothing less than a revolution from a variety of perspectives, including that of John Redlantern, Tina Spikehair and other members of the Family and it's an interesting mixed bunch of commentators. This allows us to see the full ramifications of what is happening and how the changes strike to the core of absolutely everyone. How they react to it and cope with it is extremely moving.
The universe of Dark Eden is remarkable and its wonders are complemented by the language, which expands as our troop of New Hairs explore beyond the boundaries of what is known. The names of objects and creatures are literally fantastic. The whole concept, this new distant Eden with its many parallels to the biblical Eden, is gobsmacking. It raises a host of questions about faith and the answers aren't necessarily pleasant.
My admiration for Chris Beckett is enormous. Dark Eden is a significant piece of science fiction. It is captivating but I also found it very disturbing. The fate of the characters and their lot in life troubled me. I was surprised by how involved I felt with these people and their drive for survival. Likewise with the story of the astronauts, which lies like a shadow across the novel. It will be interesting indeed to see where Chris Beckett will take us next.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 13 February 2012
This is a brilliant story. I won't go over the details, as that has been covered well already.
This is a great comibination of planetary exploration and future primitive on a planet that seems to be travelling in interstellar space outside any solar system. A spaceship crashes on a the world they call Eden, and their descendents stay in the area waiting for Earth to rescue them. Chris Beckett explains how life might survive, and creates a wonderful ecosystem for the humans to explore that is both alien yet believable.
On top of that, the book is an allegory about the introduction of evil in the world (it's called Dark Eden for a reason), and about how change is painful but necessary.
All the characters are strong, and you can understand their point of view even if you do not agree with what they are doing. The main protagonist John Redlantern is a complex and not entirely sympathetic character that shakes up the old system without any clear idea what to replace it with. The only one-note character is the 'baddie', but even here, you can understand how he had become so bitter.
Great book, it's only February but can see this will be one of my favourite reads of 2012
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I had high hopes for this book after a glowing review in the Grauniad Review section one Saturday, but unfortunately it didn't deliver what I was hoping for. The tale of the descendants of a couple stranded on an alien, starless planet, the concept is good - a world where there is no sunlight and plants and animals have (somehow) evolved to produce their own. Thrown into this a couple of hundred years earlier are Angela and Tommy, left stranded by the Three Companions who have returned to Earth for help, but never returned. The backstory is that Angela and one of the others were police chasing Tommy and his friends when both groups were stranded. Left alone Angela and Tommy are literally in an Adam and Eve scenario and the five hundred odd people on this "Dark Eden" have evolved from the incestuous breeding programme that ensued, giving rise to some interesting group morals and birth defects.
The author tries to generate a slang English typical of such a group of people a couple of hundred years after the original crash. A few of these are reasonably successful e.g. Landing Veekle and Any Visry, "slip" to sleep with someone, but a lot just don't work at all (Starry Swirl is - I think - The Milky Way and there is a lot of adjective repetition which seems to be a way of speaking they've evolved e.g. "It was bad, bad." This didn't work at all for me and made me yearn for Riddley Walker.
The story follows 15-year-old John Redlantern and his attempts to rebel against the status quo and strike out for pastures new in the dark world that he lives in. I did find the idea of the dark world quite appealing, but the tale is told in very basic language and feels (as other reviewers have mentioned) like a YA novel. I did also read that the novel was developed from a short story and it does have the feel of a good idea stretched way too far. There is no explanation of where the planet it or how it maintains an atmosphere (I was hoping for a twist where they're really all on the dark side of the moon but this doesn't happen). But the ideas flounder in the story and although chapters are told by various characters (mostly John and his on-off girlfriend Tina), their voices are not differentiated and if it wasn't for the name of each narrator at the start of each chapter it would take a while to know who is talking.
There are some good points - it's easy to read for a start and there is a twist of sorts - but overall it is not the deeply literate SF classic I had been led to expect. The ending does allow for more, but I would definitely not read any sequel as this was more than enough.
52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Eden: a world of perpetual darkness, lit by fluorescent vegetation and headed by geothermal trees. Five hundred humans - the Family - live in an isolated valley. They are all descended from the same couple, Tommy and Angela, astronauts stranded on Eden one hundred and sixty years ago. As a result, genetic deformities and aberrations amongst the Family are commonplace. The Family is held together by the dream that one day Earth will send a rescue ship to pick them up and take them home.
For teenage hunter John Redlantern, this dream is a futile delusion. He believes that the Family must branch out to survive, as the valley's food stocks are dwindling. But the only way out of the valley is a dangerous ascent over an unlit, freezing mountain that has killed every person who has tried to climb it. John's determination to escape to a better place splits the Family apart, but how much is John's plan motivated by a desire for humanity to survive on Eden and how much to appease his own ego?
Dark Eden is a dark (thematically and literally) novel that uses an interesting SF concept - a world in perpetual darkness - to explore themes about human society and the impact of ideas, traditions and rituals on a small group of people. Chris Beckett, the author of the excellent Holy Machine, has been noted as an author who fuses SF subject matter and 'literary' ambitions together into something interesting. Whilst hardly new - there's a faint hint of Brian Aldiss or early Ballard to his work - it's something that Beckett does well, creating stories that work from a scientific viewpoint as well as a literary one.
Eden itself, with its luminous trees and vividly nocturnal wildlife, is a fine, stirring creation. It's the inverse of the superheated Earth of Aldiss's Hothouse, a world here plunged into utter darkness and, away from the geothermal foliage, total cold. How this is possible is left to the reader's imagination: does the planet orbit a black hole or a brown dwarf? Does it orbit a normal star and is merely tidally locked? If the planet is indeed freezing cold, how does the atmosphere not simply melt away? Various solutions to such questions present themselves but are ultimately left ambiguous.
The Family survive by clinging to one central belief - that a rescue ship will come from Earth to find them - and their entire existence revolves around it. They refuse to travel far from their ancestors' landing site, even though local food sources have been almost exhausted. They constantly tell stories about their ancestors and the founding of their society. But they are trapped into a mode of existence so all-consuming it is taken for granted. When John Redlantern is able to step back and point out the flaws in their blinkered worldview, it creates strife and discord. A serpent enters this Eden, but this time we are on the serpent's side, as the Family remaining where they will ultimately destroy them.
At the same time, John is motivated not just by a desire to save his people, but also to prove himself better than them, a visionary leader. Beckett's structure - he uses a rotating first-person POV, swapping characters every chapter - allows us to see events from John's perspective and also from that of both his friends and enemies, allowing a tremendous depth of character to be achieved (both of John and several other key characters). John's character is built up, deconstructed and reassessed with tremendous skill. Beckett is keen to avoid passing judgement: some of John's actions are admirable, others are loathsome, and the reader is invited to decide which is which.
At the same time the story moves forward, it also moves back. The story of how Tommy and Angela ended up on Eden is revealed in layers, as more and more stories and legends from the distant past of Eden are revealed, and the story that the people of Eden know may not be the whole truth. It's also a story that doesn't have an ending, as the fate of the three astronauts who left Eden in search of help is not known (in the novel's only possible misstep, Beckett eschews the ambiguity of the rest of the book to give as a fairly straightforward answer in the book's climax). The Family want to stay in their valley so the rescuers can find them, and the end of the story can be known, whilst John and his followers want to abandon such beliefs and strike out in search of their own destiny. Conflict follows and both sides' arguments have their merits.
Dark Eden (*****) is a superb novel about ideas, the struggle to survive and the dangers of blind faith. Beckett says little that is new, but makes his points with subtlety and intelligence, all against a well-realised, vividly-described backdrop. The novel is out now in the UK and is available on Kindle in the United States.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2012
This visceral yet heart-warming book reminded me a great deal of 'Of Men and Monsters' by William Tenn, a '60s sci fi tale of humans forced to live like vermin by alien invaders. The books have several parallels; human society regressing to a fearful, primitive state; a strange, only partially explained environment; a young male protagonist on the cusp of manhood; a fateful, transformative act; old traditions challenged, and exposed, by brave new ideas.
Like Tenn, Beckett goes about his world-building skilfully yet economically, employing childlike vernacular and painting his characters in deft but distinct strokes. Hierarchies are established and dividing lines drawn early on, providing a foundation upon which Beckett steadily builds dramatic tension. In avoiding detailed exposition Beckett sustains an air of mystery about the humans' plight, compelling the reader to follow John Redlantern on his journey of discovery.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2012
There is something about Chris Beckett's short fiction stories which I enjoy. They are often understated and concentrate more on characters than plot. But they do not bore the reader with introversion at the cost of action. Dark Eden is a case in point. A group of humans have been left marooned on a distant world for generations. They wait for the fabled rescue from Earth whilst their myths and stories keep the hope alive. The world itself is quite unique in that the energy from life comes from below rather than a sun. As a result, the large valley they live in is surrounded by cold impenetrable dark mountains. The family of several hundred humans are comfortably off in the warmth and light of the vale. The tale is set at a turning point in the groups history when there is conflict over the future of humanity in the valley. A jolly good read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2013
Other people have written better and more detailed reviews than I will about this book. I will just add that I loved it. The idea is novel and thoroughly hooked me in. The horror of the situation for those on Eden is hard to truly comprehend. Thank you Mr. Beckett.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2013
I urge you to read this book. It is good on so many levels. I bought it because I liked the concept of an alien world with no sun, and the world building aspect of the novel didn't disappoint. It's a strange, dark, interesting place. It's full of life that's different enough from what we know, yet familiar enough to be believable and acceptable by our (or my) imagination.
However, the book doesn't rely on the strange environment as its main feature. Its focused on the people who have been stranded there (albeit generations after the actual event). It's about how one person, or one person's idea, can completely change the course of history.
Through the entire book I found myself completely absorbed, partly because of the fantastic elements, but mostly because the characters are just so real. From the language they use, to the way they rationalise what little Earth history they know into something understandable for them.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 August 2014
After reading just a few pages, I nearly put this book down for good. I considered it silly sci-fi, full of funny names and unfeasible characters. HOW WRONG I WAS! I looked at some of the reviews and wondered how so many people could have got it so wrong. After that I went back and tried again. After a few more pages I got it; I was hooked. This book is not about it's setting on an alien planet; it's not about 6 legged creatures and trees that pump hot sap from the underworld. It is book fundamentally about what it is to be human, specifically a human group under great stress, and the decisions it can take and the catalyst it needs in order to change. It is a great book, ever bit as profound as Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm and Brave New World. It's a same that the narrow pigeon hole of 'sci-fi' creates an obstacle to reading a book that deserves to be read by everyone.