Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

In this exciting and well written sci-fi novel, Eden is a distant planet, dimly lit not by a sun in the sky but by the lantern fruits growing on geothermic trees. Huddled in one valley under these trees, hunting ‘woollybucks’ and ‘slinkers’ to survive, is a small colony of humans, The Family. They are the descendants of two marooned, accidental explorers from Earth. Six generations of incestuous inbreeding, since the first son ‘slipped’ with his sisters, and a casual attitude to monogamy, has led to increasing numbers of ‘bat faced’ and ‘claw foot’ children, and a noticeable proportion of feebleminded adults.

The Family stay close to the stone circle, which maps out the shape of the ‘landing veekle’ that came from Earth. Stories, plays and wooden models of such amazing structures as House, Car and Plane, keep some kind of connection to Earth. The Oldest remind everyone that as long as they are good, and stay put, a ship will cross from Earth to this world, and carry the Family home to the land of the light in the sky.

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John Redlantern, a young teenager or ‘newhair’ at the start of the story, is a clear-sighted unbeliever. He has worked out that the supply of food will soon outstrip the population. Although, like any male newhair, he enjoys hunting woollybucks and casual ‘slips’ with the ‘oldmums’, he is full of the desire to shake things up that infects many a teenager in whatever society.
So the stage is set for John’s rebellion and the consequences of his split from The Family. John is the hero, and principal narrator, but different points of view are given in chapters narrated by Tina Spiketree, John’s girlfriend, and others who are changed forever by his actions.

The young hero’s rebellion against moribund society is familiar sci-fi territory, but Chris Beckett uses it very skilfully to weave a tale that is even more than a strong coming of age story. It works on many levels – he questions religion, human attempts to organise themselves, the necessity for violence and the status of risk takers. The story itself is told simply and directly, with the result that it rattles along. I finished the book in a day, and that is not a criticism. For anyone who is put off sci-fi by the idea that it is all weird names, strange language and landscapes that you cannot relate to, this book is a good antidote. The characters have names such as John, Flower, Fox, Star – the original humans were called Tommy and Angela – and the book is narrated in everyday English, with the occasional effective change. For example adjectives are strengthened by repetition, so that the forbidden Snowy Dark mountain is not just cold, it is cold cold.

I can happily recommend this book to lovers of sci-fi, and to anyone who enjoys a good story set in an interesting and appealing location, with well-rounded characters. I look forward to reading further novels from Chris Beckett.
Review by Lucretia.

5 Mr Mushroom Heads.
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5 / 5 Mushroom Heads     
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