Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden has a backstory to rival the book of Genesis. Several generations ago, two humans, Tommy and Gela, survived a crash-landing on a planet without a sun. The planet was not devoid of life or light, though; glowing plants and animals survived by feeding off of the planet’s thermal energy. On this new planet, which they called Eden, Tommy and Gela have children, becoming the Adam and Eve of a new race of humans.
Now, generations later, their progeny, several dozen people, many of whom are afflicted with birth defects and called “batfaces” or “clawfeet,” live huddled together in a relatively safe area of Eden, frightened to explore beyond the snowy mountains or deep waters that border their land. A young man, John Redlantern, wants to change that. Defying the orders of the clan’s leader, David, the charismatic John gathers a group of dissenters and goes in search of the Veekle, the space-craft that crashed, hoping for answers about Earth and a potential rescue.
Dark Eden tells the story of an innocent civilization on the brink of a bloody schism. Like the story of Cain and Abel, it shows us the shock and horror of a culture that experiences human violence for the first time—and how inevitable violence is anytime two worldviews collide. Redlantern and his group experience setbacks and victories on their epic journey into the unknown, and the fearmongering David is all all too recognizable to any reader today as the force holding back change, discovery, and human progress. It reminded me of Lord of the Flies, except that John and David have to live with the consequences of their violence rather than being rescued and returned to childhood.
Beckett’s inventive world-building, creating a sunless planet that still sustains life, was fascinating if a little slow at times. I liked seeing the different animals and plants that he created. Hearing them described through the perspectives of characters who have never known anything else was like solving a puzzle: what does this animal look like? But I have to confess that one of his world-building tactics got on my nerves. Beckett is writing in multiple perspectives, using first-person point of view. Because of this perspective, he is limited to the vocabulary of his characters, all of whom have been separated from Earth civilization (and thus, much formalized education) for generations. This made his language lack a sort of poetry that I enjoy in books in 3rd person, or coming from 1st person narrators with more education and finesse. Also, in order to establish dialect, Beckett has his characters use certain speech tics, like doubled adjectives (“big-big” or “shiny-shiny”) for emphasis. I found this incredibly annoying at first.