Woollybucks, Starflowers and Leopards... Oh, My!
Very rarely do you buy a novel on a whim and find yourself truly captivated by every line. A couple years ago, in the days of constant travelling, I felt the need to escape my rather bland world of the inside of airliners flying to yet another bland customer office. I can’t remember what lead me to find Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden, possibly a review in the Books section of the every trusty The Week, but whatever it was, it was one of those choices that you are always happy you made. It could also be that the basis of the plot is rather similar to that of my favourite Twilight Zone episode, "Probe 7, Over and Out", look it up, its great (you can find it on YouTube, it is embedded below). Dark Eden is set 160 years after a group of explorers crash land on a planet of perpetual darkness. Of the group, two are forced to stay behind while the rest mount an attempt to get help. The others, well they never return. Tommy and Angela, stranded on a planet where the light comes the stars and from the trees and animals that inhabit the planet, are forced to make due and they start a family and with it, as the generations pass, the genetic malformation that comes with an incestuous “family”. As any society develops, its history and stories become a major part of it development. On Eden, The Oldest are the keepers of this oral history and with it, the belief that someone is coming to save them. The Oldest keep the family together, they keep the family at the original landing spot, they control. But what happens when one of the young succumbs to that natural drive of youth, to see beyond the next hill? That’s the catalyst for Dark Eden, when John Redlantern breaks from the accepted and leaves the confines of his society, not only in journeying away from home but also being the first to kill.
The story is told from various first person viewpoints, including John’s, and the personal feelings of each as their world is shattered. But, the thing about Beckett’s take that hooked me from the outset is his use of language. Being isolated for 160 years, where the need to read and write dissolves into the darkness and the spoken word is king, the language used by The Family morphs into one that suits their environment. Things that have no relevance to their lives any more, like Radio’s and electricity, become Raded Yo and Lecky-trickity, abstracts they don't understand. The simplicity of their lives and expectations has the same effect on their vocabulary and this feeds a wonderful life into the narrative. To be blunt, Beckett’s use of this device is the best use of language I've read in a novel for a very long time. It has the same effect as Burgess’ Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange or Orwell’s Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four, creating an otherworldy feeling that removes you slightly from the expected and yet brings you closer to the characters you are finding yourself becoming more and more invested in. Not going deeper into the story than that, what you have in effect is a Genesis story, with John playing multiple roles, Adam, Cain, Noah, and without his meaning too, creating a new society that looks to him for direction, when he doesn't know where he himself is going. The multiple first person device allows you to see how The Family is fractured, how John changes and how the first steps over that hill creates a new world.
Beckett neatly ties things up as the book draws to its conclusion, yet you are left wanting to know more, to discover more of Eden with John and his new Family. It is a truly satisfying read and one I'm willing to return to and talk about very happily two years after first landing on Eden. Chris Beckett has a sequel to Dark Eden due soon called Mother of Eden. This is set a number of generations after the breakup of The Family and we will see the effects of John’s actions from the eyes of their children. I seriously can’t wait to read it, which is why I pester Chris on Twitter regularly to offer my “help” in any way with the sequel… Not sure what that would be, but the offer stands. The help I do offer is suggesting Dark Eden to anyone who wants a very immersive and enjoyable read. It is a truly beautiful piece of work.
Read"The Story Behind Dark Eden", there is even a mention of an Amstrad PCW!
Visit Chris Beckett's website for news and his other novels and stroies.
Here's that Twilight Zone episode from 1963: