Dark Eden is the story of lone-voice John Redlantern who, with his extended family, is stranded on a distant planet. This is a planet with no Sun; the only light sources are the forests with their shining treelanterns. All 532 people in the Family are descendants of Angela and Tommy. Unable to leave Eden, as they named it, they created a new human colony in Circle Valley that stretches ‘all the way from Peckham Hills to Blue Mountains and from Rockies to Alps.’
Once a year (roughly speaking, as it’s difficult for the oldest members to keep track of time), they gather for an ‘Any Virsry’ to recount the oral history of the settlement and to revere the few mementoes of Angela, Tommy and Earth – the plastic kee board, the sky-boat models, the boot, the backpack…
They are a peace-loving, in-bred community waiting for the arrival of a sky-boat, which they believe will take them home to Earth – an Earth they don’t know. They strive to be good and peaceable so that Earth will accept them. But the Family is so frightened of missing the sky-boat’s arrival, that no one has ever moved away from the small valley where Angela and Tommy started their community.
John Redlantern is a newhair, or adolescent, of the Redlantern group. He is bored and, worse, he’s impatient with the Oldest and their deep conservatism:
Tom’s dick and Harry’s, I thought, that’s the trouble with us! That’s what’s wrong with the way we are. We live as if Eden wasn’t where we really lived at all but just a camp like hunters make when they stay out in forest for a few wakings. We’re only waiting here to go back to where we really belong.
They all survive as hunter-gatherers but food sources are diminishing as the community grows. John is curious about the world beyond their valley, beyond the Snowy Dark. He believes the Family should find a new home with more space, but he’s also frightened about where his thinking will lead.
John’s quest begins when he bravely confronts and kills a leopard. Such daring is unheard of in the valley. Any other newhair would have run away and hid in a tree. And so, encouraged by the adulation he receives and the elevation in his reputation, John decides to lead his life by Leopard’s Rule: ‘You have got to think where you want to get to in the future – not just to make things easy here and now.’
Dark Eden is a fascinating, philosophical reflection on the nature of leadership, and the importance of curiosity and daring. The ending is satisfying, though not surprising, and there’s scope for a sequel – though Chris Beckett might not be a series-type-of-author.
Conclusion? Dark Eden by Chris Beckett is a brilliant read and it’s definitely a strong contender for the Arthur C Clarke Award. I’d be perfectly content if this other-world tale is the winner.
Next: Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway.