Bookshots: 'Dark Eden' by Chris Beckett
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who wrote it:
2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award winner (for this novel), Chris Beckett. He also won the Edge Hill Short Fiction Award in 2009, for his collection, The Turing Test. More info can be found at his website.
Plot in a Box:
160 years after their progenitors are marooned on an alien planet, the fledging society known as "Family" deals with dissension as progress and tradition clash.
Invent a new title for this book:
Actually, that's horrible. I like: Beyond the Snowy Dark. Much more poetic, although it doesn't really convey the "starting over" aspect of the story.
Read this if you like:
Literary sci-fi, Margaret Atwood's Maddaddam trilogy, Lord of the Flies
Meet the book's lead:
Although the story is told from multiple viewpoints, the main character would be John Redlantern, a restless "newhair" who's starting to get some big ideas. (And if you assumed newhair was an age-related pube reference, you'd be correct.)
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
At what age do kids get pubes these days? Thirteen? Fourteen? I don't know any age-appropriate actor that could handle the role, so... Channing Tatum.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
Eden is a planet without a sun. The only source of light is a luminescent species of tree that gives off a pale glow. Food is scarce and unappetizing (charred bat wing, anyone?). The members of Family live the life of the most secluded indigenous people. They are technologically unadvanced. But they do seem pretty liberal when it comes to sex, and fathers are not responsible for any of the children they sire, so count me in!
What was your favorite sentence?
Atouk alunda Lana.
Wait, that's not right...
You ever read the newspaper and wish you could hit the reset button on humanity? Build a new society from scratch to see if things turn out any better? You wouldn't be the first. In fact, countless authors have done you one better by taking this "what if?" scenario and exploring it on the page. Unfortunately, no matter what approach they take, their conclusion always seems to be the same: as a species, we're fucked.
It's an interesting exercise, though, and generally an entertaining one. Regarding his own reboot of the human race, novelist Chris Beckett told Amazon, "I’m interested in how societies grow and change, and what better way of exploring that than starting again with just two people and trying to imagine what would happen?"
So what does happen in this Brave Old World of his? Optimistic youngin's hopped up on hope rebel against their elders, that's what. And quicker than you can say, "Thanks, Obama," everything falls apart.
Their defacto leader is John Redlantern, who starts out as an idealistic proponent of change, challenging the status quo in a thoughtful, circumspect manner. But those who rally around him begin to doubt his motivation when it becomes apparent he is interested in change for the sake of change, and only if he is the catalyst of said change. In other words, he becomes kind of a dick. He doesn't know what he wants, so he is always chasing something new and different. He's hot, he's cold. He's petulant. After a while, it makes him a hard character to identify with, let alone like.
The true star here is the worldbuilding. It is subtle yet distinct. Eden is a fascinating environment, just enough like Earth for the differences to matter. Creatures are given familiar names, but bear distinct differences from their Earthly analogs. And like the landscape and its indigenous life, the evolving society of Eden is enough like ours to allow us to relate to it while staying clinically detached. It's a neat little trick that allows for unbiased introspection, and leaves room for, dare I say it, hope.
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