Beneath the sunless skies, the Family waits, as it has for generations, for the mythical star-crossing boats of Earth to rescue them from this unwelcoming planet.
Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden brings us an accidental human colony on the sunless planet of Eden, a glittering world lit by bioluminescent fauna and heated by warm lanterntrees. The whole society is one close-knit (and inbred) extended family. They spend their days hunting, gathering, and reverently anticipating the day a starship will return them to that beautiful, promised land — Earth. It’s been 150 years; surely rescue is imminent.
His whole life, young John Redlantern has been hearing about how much better everything is on Earth, and has been told that they all must stay put, no matter how Family grows or the prey dwindles, because how else will the spaceship find them? John itches to be as important as the figures of legend — the first Mum and Dad, and their Three Companions who flew away to get help — and he can’t bear the stagnant way everyone lives, tethered to the landing spot. When he rips Family out of its stupor, John becomes the first exile in Eden history.
Dark Eden is a coming of age story both for John and the society, and as new frontiers are discovered, so are new evils. In the struggle to determine how Family will live, one thing clear: there is no going back to the old structures; Eden has fallen.
John Redlantern, proud, clever, and often broody, is a protagonist we can feel ambivalent about. He’s determined to force himself into history, but it’ll be as a hero or villain depends on who wins. Pulled in his wake are loyal cousin, Gerry; clubfooted and philosophical little Jeff; and brave, independent Tina, all of whom come off a little flat. Each side character gets a few chapters from their point of view, but this is more to provide further perspective of John, rather than flesh out their own stories.
Though the voices sound fairly similar, they are smattered through with an interesting mixture of new slang and oaths, Americanisms, and Britishisms, reflecting how language has developed on a planet founded by two people from different countries. It’s this attention to culture that the book does best. Dark Eden infuses Genesis with an unflinching realism by imagining a society literally descended from one man and one woman. Consequences of incest pop up with harelips (“batfaces”) and “clawfeet”. Origin tales immortalize both great deeds and familial dirty laundry. Strikingly, they preserve memories of the day the first woman broke down and yelled that she never wanted any of them: her children, her husband, this dark, strange world.
The characters are useful to the plot, but don’t have enough depth to feel real. Still, post-apocalypse fans will find things to enjoy in this tale where the shape of society takes the focus.
“…Earth where Tommy and Angela first came from, way back in the beginning with the Three Companions, and where we would all return, if only we stayed in the right place and were good good good. There were no lanterntrees back there on Earth, no glittery flutterbyes or shiny flowers, but they had a big big light that we don’t have at all. It came from a giant star. And it was so bright that it would burn out your eyes if you stared at it.”