Chris Beckett, Eden,
Chris Beckett's Eden trilogy is something quite unique to say the least and it had been a while since I had read such a well written scifi novel...
We are on Eden, a starless planet. Light and warmth come from the trees which find the necessary light and warmth for their own growth in the planet's mantle. And humans live here. But they didn't arrive voluntarily: they're all descendants of Tommy and Angela, who came here because of a wrecked Earth starship a hundred years before. The 500 strong human community tries to survive in a small valley, hoping Earth would finally send another starship to rescue them. But John, a teenager, wants to shake things up.
Eden is quite a grim tale: we are talking about generalised incest and abandoned humans, reduced to live in a stone age on an often hostile planet, while desperately, hopelessly, waiting for a starship from the now fabled Earth, yearning for a technological age they only heard about. But at the same time, in the first volume, the planet is also really Eden: no murders, no domination of one above any other. Of course it will change because conflicts are unavoidable. The first volume plays with the Genesis myths and with great effect.
It's a real page-turner, hard to put back once you've started on it (even if it's 4am and you've got to work in the morning, trust me on this!). Beckett's writing is fluid, gripping, sometimes poetic.
The chapters alternate the first person narrators, except in Daughter of Eden which sticks with one: it helps to really flesh out the characters with their inner struggles or their inner growth. The series also underline how we turn the world, facts and people into stories and myths, and, as the series progresses, the power of those stories (1).
The starless planet is fascinating and beautifully described. But the novels are more than just a concept and develop many themes, not just the need to make sense of the world with stories, but also about human progress, spirituality, domination and gender equality.
It's not a series for someone who doesn't like grim scifi, though I have to say the last volume felt less grim. But it's an absolute must read for whoever likes their science fiction with a strong concept, well fleshed out characters and a thoughtful take on humanity.
Dark Eden won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2013.
(1) When I read Mother of Eden and Daughter of Eden, I couldn't help but think of Sheri S. Tepper's Arbai trilogy, and particularly of Raising the Stones and what has become of Marjorie's teachings in it. I don't know if it's because Ms Tepper passed recently that I saw so much of her influence in this trilogy, but coming from me, it's certainly high praise.
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I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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