Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Dark Eden
Chris Beckett

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Corvus (January 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848874634
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848874633

  • Wow, this is a great book! I've always loved anthropological scifi, where we see the power of culture on human affairs. I also like speculative fiction where a writer comes up with a speculation...a kind of "What if?" and then we get to see the ramifications of all those "what ifs."  Part of the fun of what if stories is being aware of how the smallest thing affects or is affected by that great what if proposition.

  • So then, imagine an Adam and Eve couple, stranded on a dark planet with no sea and no sun. They decide to have children and they have told these children about the world they came from. These tellings are passed on through subsequent (often mutated because they are inbred) generations. How is a spaceship to be described?  Why it's a boat in the starry swirl sea above!    

  • This what if speculation of the novel comes very close to being a parable and some folks might fnd themselves being uncomfortable with that. What is this book saying about Oral Tradition? (and in a subtle way, about the gospels, since the gospels --according to some-- were oral traditions?) And what is the mix of truth and misunderstanding? What is the purpose of story? To inspire? To change? To lock us into tradition? What if the story has elements of conservatism and revolution in them? What to choose? When do you revolt against Elders? When do you listen to them? Should you stay in a static place awaiting rescue from the sky or should you move on from the old doctrine, so to speak?

  • Other readers might find the book hard going because there is a whole lot of talk about "slipping with" folks. Morals are different in a world without talk of God and where the idea of Jesus has disintegrated as the King of the Juice. (We get the feeling that either Angela wasn't too bright or the tales she told got diuted over the years.)  I'll also add that "juice" is the word for semen in this book.

  • Well, there are a lot of words for stuff in this word. The author is new at coining words, and of course one has to read this story intuitively in order to feel what a certain word might mean. It's not that book is meant to be a puzzle but you'll have to muddle through a bit and sometimes you might not fully understand what a "leopard" looks like or what trees on Dark Eden actually look like.

  •  Since this is full-on speculative, I can't say the writer set out to challenge the Garden of Eden Biblical narrative. There is only one line there which seemed to be a dig at religion. But there is a feel in the novel ...a kind of arrogance toward old stories, and the author does seem somewhat proud of himself as if he has shown his readers that he is an honest seeker after truth who has struggled with accepting anything by faith and he understands their quandary. In that way, certain parts of the story feels downright smug and other parts feels wrong. If a person of faith had written a story with the same premise, that person might have included a god or might have had more insightful things to say about the idea of traditional storytelling. But then the believer would have a different purpose. I also think that a modern Christian writer would probably not have created such a culture. Christian writers are notably dishonest and prudish about sexuality and there probably would have been some dishonesty in exploring the sexual culture of the descendants of Angela and Tommy.   

  • And yet, the ramifications of the story works out so well in so many fine and wonderful details that one can't be too angry. Atheists will use it to show how wise they are in their opinions. Some might even use this book to mock religious people. But I don't think this is what the author fully intends. This is the beginning of a series so who knows where the author will go with it? Does he intend to mirror other events in human history and Biblical history? We already have the makings of tribes and as the book ends, there are hints of tribal warfare coming in FAMILY. As such, we can't make any decisions about the author's feelings about faith in a god or gods of anykind. Not until he makes the people of this world "make" a god or if a god presents himself to the people of Eden. At present there are moments in the narrative when some great coincidence happens and one finds one's self asking why. Why has hero John Redlantern found this relic? Why did the adventurous group from FAMILY find what they found? Is it just by chance? Is it providential guidance from a god or from the universa God? Is it just a writer doing the easy stuff and creating coincidences in the plot?  We shall see.

    All in all, this is an amazing book.

    I'll be writing a longer review for this on The Fan sometime in September. Til then....
    I received this book through the blogging for books website. 
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