Those applying for the Mars One mission might first want to have a read of Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden. It tells the story of a small colony of humans stranded on the ironically dubbed Eden. The catch is that the colonists are all descended from the original two astronauts, setting up an Adam and Eve story only with all the impacts of a concentrated gene-pool included.
The planet itself is brilliantly realised and brilliantly alien. Eden is, as you might imagine given the title of the book, dark: both in the lack of light sense and the plight of its inhabitants. A planet cast adrift, with no start to orbit, Family’s world is a harsh, cold place where the only warmth is pumped from the planet’s core by humming trees and the only light comes from bioluminescence and the periodic appearance of Starry Swirl in the obsidian night.
We join Family in their sixth generation with the ravages of restricted genetics staring to manifest. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the alien animals hunted for food in the forest of Circle Valley are gradually being over-exploited. Family are stagnating and one teenage boy – John Redlantern – takes it on himself to challenge the status quo by suggesting splitting up Family and exploring more of the world, rather than waiting on Earth to come and save them.
Beckett does an excellent job of creating a truly alien world, where leopards sing to their prey before attacking and trees act as nodding donkeys, draining energy from the planet’s core. The action is told from many different viewpoints, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the different motivations, fears and hopes of all the characters.
As John struggles with the technical difficulties of crossing the freezing mountains to reach the next valley, there is a real sense of being right at the start of human civilisation. The end of the story brings resolution of a kind, but, like the best tales of exploration, it also left me feeling that there are far greater adventures to come. For all its alien environment and the strange basis of the civilisation living there, it is a world I hope Beckett lets us return to in the future. Even if, in some ways, humans seemed to have made Dark Eden that little bit darker.
Next up is China Miéville’s The City & the City.