Book Review – Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an interesting book in many ways, linguistically, sociology and the convincing alien world it is set on. The premise is that the main characters are the descendants of two people stranded on an alien planet. The Family (as they refer to themself) are waiting for the day when the rescue mission will come to take them all to Earth.
The world is the familiar story book jungle with a strange alien weirdness to it. For a start the sky is dark and the trees and animals luminesce. The typical body plan is six legs and very large eyes, as one might expect on a dark planet. Metal is known but unavailable to the Family, they only have primitive technology despite folklore of the advanced tech.
The family is getting larger and has just over 500 members living a hunter gatherer existence. There are matrilineal groups within the family, and the people are classed developmentally. The inbreeding inherent in a population derived from two individuals has a level of genetic disorder, ‘batface’ and ‘clawfoot’ to use the vernacular of the book. This is played very well into the character interactions in the story.
The Family lack a lot of the hangups that we would have, but they have their own taboos which make sense in their environment. They also have a rich oral history and the vestiges of written records. There are also relics from the spaceship and the first people. In fact the oral history and stories from the first people resonate through the whole story and form much of the basis for the Family’s society.
The regression from technology to hunter gatherer and the inability to produce mass written material has made their language evolve a little. It’s easy enough to read, all the words in use are recognisably common English words. Some of the flora and fauna of Dark Eden are compound words, e.g. Whitelantern, woollybuck. Others have descriptive names, the slinker is like a giant millipede.
Another aspect is the names for people’s ages is generally given in wombs. This is an easier and more meaningful counting system when there are no seasons, nor any other way to measure the passage of time. A day is referred to as a waking. The Family groups sleep in staggered shifts so that there are always people around.
The story itself is told from multiple points of view to show the reader the overall picture. Most of it is shown from two main characters though. John Redlantern is the main mover in it all, breaking the taboos and stirring things up. Tina Spiketree is the other primary character and she supports and moderates John to begin with. Both of them are newhairs of about 14 years old when the story starts.
I enjoyed the experience of Dark Eden as much as I liked the story. My only gripe with it was that the ending was a bit abrupt. I went forwards and back three times on the kindle app before realising that there was no error it was the end. While the conclusion is a good one it wrapped a little too fast.
Overall I would recommend this if you are interested in language, sociology, world building or just like a good story. It has all of those.