Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett (Broadway Books, April 2014 in the US, Jan. 2012 in the UK), is one for those who enjoy sci fi about people making homes for humanity on strange new worlds that aren't populated by unicorn kittens. Which is to say, darkish ones for older readers. And this is why it took me a while to read the book.
I started several months ago, and found myself on a planet without a sun. Life here on Eden comes from the hot core of the planet, and the indigenous creatures have evolved enough bioluminescence for humans to survive. But the humans aren't exactly thriving--quite quickly we learn that this is in in-bred group, all descended from two people a few generations back, and it's clear that they are rapidly loosing the technology and learning of Earth.
And the book didn't work for me immediately--I just didn't want to be on Eden, with a somewhat miserable group of people in a weird dark place all sitting around in one small valley waiting for Earth to find them again, stuck with them on a world that brought them no sense of wonder or beauty
But I came back to it, and was rewarded. Because one of the young men of Eden, John Redlantern, is also tired of just sitting there in a valley whose resources are being strained by the growing population of Family. And he leads a small group away from the first settlement, experimenting, innovating, taking Eden for what it is, and making it a place where people can actually Live, as opposed to simply surviving.
Of course, there are many who don't want change, and who hate John for breaking up Family. And so, along with hope, John brings war to Eden...
And the reading of the book was very much like the story of the book--a reluctance to be there, with a gradually growing sense that there were people I could care about, and wonders of Eden beyond that first small valley that really were the stuff of wonder. And as the book gathered steam, the central point--that the life worth lived is one that's not spent passively waiting to be somewhere else, that being Here, and doing all you can with that, is what's important, became tremendously appealing and interesting.
So although it never quite became a book I loved, it did become one I read with ever more riveted fascination, helped along by the character's own realization that they were making a new Story that would shape the future of Eden.
Some added value comes from an exploration of gender roles. Though John is the Hero of the epic that he is creating, narrating much of the story, a young woman who goes with him, Tina, narrates considerable parts of it. And through her eyes we gain an awareness of a matriarchal society being challenged, and a sense of questioning how women can fit into this new story created by this new hero. I myself would have liked to see Tina given an ending with stronger hints that there will be power for her, and other women, in the new future, but at least the issue was raised. There's also the inclusion of a central character with a disability (club feet, resulting from the inbreeding), who is the smartest of the bunch and who is right up there in terms of being an essential creator of the new future for the Edenites.
Mother of Eden, coming out in the UK this November, which promises to confront the issue of the role of women in patriarchal societies.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publishers.