Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Dark EdenDark Eden by Chris Beckett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took a while for this very different sci-fi book to grow on me. The setting is a distant planet called Eden, where some marooned astronauts landed and began a new society. Of the five humans who landed, four men and one woman, three were rogue astronauts who decided to try flying through some sort of wormhole and two were the Orbital Police who were trying to stop them when they involuntarily got taken through the hole to what turned out to be Eden. The policewoman and one of the astronauts stayed behind to populate the new planet while the other three set off to seek rescue from Earth. The story begins five generations later, with a small “Family” all descended from the same pair, and showing various inbreeding mutations. It is a hunter/gatherer society on a sunless planet that derives its only light from stars and glowing lantern-trees. The story is told from the viewpoint of several different characters, but at least keeps in chronological order, which makes it easy to follow.

The language threw me off at first. It is very stylized to represent what the author imagines English could become in such an isolated society detached from Earth not only distance but also by any experience with a modern society of any kind. To emphasize words, especially modifiers, they repeat them, as in “it felt strange strange to be doing …” and other corruptions like “veekle” (vehicle), Secret Ree (Secretary), etc. abounded. I almost gave up on page 2 because of this, but after a few dozens pages you fall into the rhythm of their speech. It was refreshing in a way.

The plot had its holes, but I’ll refrain from spoilers and leave it at that. The main character, John Redlantern, is reminiscent of Ayla in Jean Auel’s Earth Children series, in that he and one other character seem to invent (or reinvent) all of modern society’s major achievements in a period of days or weeks – a yearning for exploration, animal husbandry, shoes and other clothing, homicide, to name a few. Despite these flaws, the story had me drawn in from the beginning and enabled me to lose myself in this strange, imaginary world.

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