I saw Dark Eden advertised in SFX magazine a few years ago and added it to my mental wish list. It sounded my sort of thing and I eventually bought it on Kindle. A tale of strange alien worlds and life forms, exotic yet hostile, beautiful yet problematic about a small colony trying to survive. It sounded my sort of thing.
Our protagonist is one John Redlantern – “newhair” (pubescent child) living in the colony of “Family” on the planet Eden. It is so far from its sun that Eden is largely a dark and inhospitable place, and mostly ice. “Family” lives only in a fertile valley that they must not leave, the only place with enough heat to grow plants and support life. Yet they have another reason for not leave. It’s not because of the ice, but because they believe the people from Earth will come to rescue them any day soon. Yet 200 “womb times” have passed – some 150 years and they are terrified that if they leave, the rescuers will come from the “Great Swirl” and find they are not there.
Slowly, we learn about how this strange society came about. A group of travellers crash landed there many years ago. While several companions went to get help, the remaining two – Angela and Tommy (whom it is later revealed are brother and sister) – stayed behind. Their companions were gone for so long, probably killed or returned home, that Angela and Tommy make a home on Eden. They eventually have children. Those children have children and so on. Yes, this “Family” colony is inbred. They are also inward looking, back to a time and a place many of them have never visited. Because women live longer than men, this is a rigid and hierarchical matriarchal geritocracy.
Our protagonist feels that are too backward looking and romanticising the past of a place they will never see. At Any Virsy (the date ever year on which the “anniversary” of the crash happened) he speaks out of turn during the ritual and telling of the story of their arrival. The typical narrative of this type of story is a character with wanderlust – but John is pragmatic rather than adventurous, even though he does have little patience for the insular and backward looking settlements of Family. He realises that with an ever increasing population, the settlements around “Circle” (the ring of stones that they believe will help Earth find them again) can’t hold Family forever. He wants to cross the icy mountains and see what lies beyond.
Eden is a wondrous place. The planet has no metal so Family must use obsidian tools to hunt the local wildlife. Many plants are poisonous too. It is always dark and the plants and animals that evolved there have some kind of bioluminescence, another reason they will not leave. You may notice I’ve used a few strange words. The story is written in an odd style to which you will adapt quickly. The words are strange but beautifully poetic. “Batfaces” and “Clawfoots” are those with the most genetic abnormalities. “Newhairs” are pubescent children. “The Great Swirl” is the visible arm of the Milky Way. Sex is referred to as “sliding” or “to slip”.
This language flows easily in the text, as does the number of repeated words. It’s deliberately written in a simplistic style to reflect the simplistic lifestyle of Family. It is also written from a different perspective each chapter so we are given an omnipotent view that differs from most other books. Dark Eden is not a page turner, but it is a great read that flows incredibly and surprisingly well. I can’t quite put my finger on why I liked this so much when so much of it feels so familiar. Perhaps that was simply it – good, old-fashioned, simple adventure storytelling. Sometimes, that is all we need.