Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Grimdark Voting! And review: Chris Beckett's Dark Eden

Only two days left to vote in the Grimdark challenge over at Fantasy Faction! Thirteen flashfic stories of the grimmest, darkest horrors around. One of those is my own entry, Chirp.

Grimdark Stories Thread

No mention of party cake in any of the stories, I might add. An oversight, which I'll try to correct in future grimdark stories.


Finished Chris Beckett's Dark Eden, which won the Arthur C. Clarke award last year. It was not what I expected, and in fact, was so different from anything I've ever read, that I'm still having muddled feelings about it.

John Redlantern is one of 532 people in the Family, who are all descended from Tommy and Angela. Approximately two hundred years ago, Tommy and Angela, along with three others, crashed their spaceship on a planet after having, presumably, crossed through a wormhole from our galaxy. This new planet is nothing at all like Earth, although it is capable of sustaining life, and when their ship is unable to return, they send the three others in another ship that is also damaged but may be able to make the journey back. Tommy and Angela procreate while waiting for someone to rescue them, they live and die, and the family continues on, intermingling, increasing their numbers, and holding on tight to the stories Tommy and Angela told of a place called Earth, where the Sun shines and there is technology they can't begin to understand.

The Family lives in one valley, where the ship originally crashed, and is divided into groups. They hunt and fish and have sex indiscriminately with one another. If their culture is beyond imagining, then so too is their world, which has no sun but receives red and blue and yellow light from the trees and creatures, which all have light-emitting globes.

Eventually, as it has to happen, one person wonders what is beyond their valley, and what if no one from Earth ever comes for them, and how will they survive as resources dwindle. John Redlantern is only fifteen, but he has ideas and a restlessness that makes others in the Family uncomfortable. When he decides to speak his mind and then act on it, the Family begins to fragment, and real violence comes to them for the first time in their two hundred years.

Despite being fast-paced and eventful, Dark Eden is also thoughtful and questioning. The secondary characters are fleshed out well, and Beckett seems to have considered a multitude of issues that would arise in such a particular situation.

Most of those who did not like Dark Eden seem to have had a problem with the language, which has, naturally, degraded over time from the English that Tommy and Angela spoke. In addition, the entire concept of five hundred people descended from only two, and the incest (and all the genetic problems that come from such inbreeding) make for a very, very strange experience. However, John and the others are so incredibly human, and the storytelling so vivid, that the book ceased to give me a headache by about a quarter way through -- yes, I found this book so strange at first, so difficult to comprehend, that I had a headache trying to understand it. But once I grasped it, I was along for the ride, and read it very quickly.

It's a challenging read in many aspects, and worthy of praise and awards. The ending was sort of a letdown, and that's my main criticism of it. I understand, I think, why Becket wrote it that way, but I'm not pleased.

I do highly recommend Dark Eden. You absolutely won't read anything like it.

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