STARRED REVIEW
April 01, 2014

It’s a whole new world—just don’t try to leave

By Chris Beckett
Review by
On a cold, sunless planet named Eden, 500 or so descendants of two stranded travelers live beneath light and heat-giving “trees,” converting the slowly decaying knowledge of their own beginnings into a tribal mythology. Among them, John Redlantern chafes at the slavish, innovation-quenching traditions the Family upholds as it huddles in its small valley and refuses to even question what lies beyond the “Snowy Dark” that surrounds it. Soon, John makes a series of decisions that threaten to disrupt the peace—and ignorance—his tribe holds dear.
Share this Article:

On a cold, sunless planet named Eden, about 500 descendants of two stranded travelers live beneath light and heat-giving “trees,” converting the slowly decaying knowledge of their own beginnings into a tribal mythology. Among them, John Redlantern chafes at the slavish, innovation-quenching traditions the Family upholds as it huddles in its small valley and refuses to even question what lies beyond the “Snowy Dark” that surrounds it. Soon, John makes a series of decisions that threaten to disrupt the peace—and ignorance—his tribe holds dear.

Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden does many things well—including the kinds of things that, frankly, are pretty unsexy (or at least hyperbole-resistant), and thus often passed over by reviewers in favor of those qualities that allow the use of words like “haunting,” “lyrical” or “riveting.” Make no mistake, the novel (winner of the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year) certainly deserves such accolades, but it’s also full of simpler pleasures.

There’s the joy of an immediately immersive alien environment. The planet of Eden is a wondrous mix of familiar nomenclature applied to completely alien flora, fauna and topography. The leopards, monkeys and bats, the Alps and Rockies—readers ingest such terms easily, moving through the text without distraction even as a clearer understanding of what the terms actually refer to slowly seeps in.

Meanwhile, the human drama of Dark Eden unfolds, delivered exclusively through the first-person narratives of John, Tina Spiketree and, occasionally, a few other characters. Too often, authors deliver a robustly imagined, unique environment only to falter in the building and presentation of equally unique characters. Not so with Becket, who exhibits a real flair for psychological differentiation—every narrator in Dark Eden exhibits a distinct attitude and perspective (with not a whiff of authorial puppeteering).

With nothing really getting between the reader and the tale . . . well, this is where the more traditional superlatives come into play. Dark Eden is, indeed, riveting, and the world-building is robust—a keenly imagined vision of the interaction between human nature and a truly alien world. What’s more, Beckett’s tale is psychologically convincing. Eden may be a hostile environment, and the Family’s foothold there precarious, but Dark Eden suggests that the interplay of personal psychology and society mores can be as dangerous (and transformative) as even the most inimical of settings.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Dark Eden

Dark Eden

By Chris Beckett
Broadway Books
ISBN 9780804138680

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.