Little more than a year after the U.S. publication of his award-winning Dark Eden, Chris Beckett returns readers to the alien, hostile planet of Eden and the humans stranded there. In Mother of Eden, 150 years have passed since the events of the previous novel. The human descendants of John, Jeff, Tina, David and the rest—themselves born of the original castaways—have, for the most part, splintered into thriving communities spread across Eden (as opposed to the small, huddled group featured in Beckett’s debut).
Much as with Dark Eden, Mother of Eden features a central, story-driving protagonist even as plenty of pages are given to the first-person perspectives of the supporting cast. Taken out of context, the plot is the stuff Lifetime dramas are made of: Starlight Brooking is a headstrong inhabitant of a small fishing village who decides to leave her people behind to be with a man from a far-off land. But this is Eden, and Beckett has got much more on his mind than happily ever afters. Humanity’s foothold as a species may have grown more secure, but at the same time, the more traditional, intraspecies dangers have multiplied. Starlight and new husband, Greenstone Johnson, find themselves engulfed in what any Earthling will recognize as more traditional—and treacherous—politics. No one can accuse Beckett of Utopian leanings: Starlight’s new home is replete with all the worst behaviors quasi-religion, ego and gender dynamics have to offer.
As plot developments go, it all makes for a compelling read. Yet just as humans and their drama have spread across Eden, the planet itself, with its gloriously alien array of flora and fauna, feels as if it has receded. In part, this is just an illusion. The creatures and ecology of the planet are expanded upon and given plenty of page time—they just don’t represent near the threat to Starlight that other humans do.
To an extent, Mother of Eden seems to continue a thought experiment derived from a simple “classic sci-fi” premise—how would a small group of humans survive marooned long term on an alien world. Dark Eden focused on the politics, psychology and power struggles that exist between individuals in a group, while Mother looks at those same dynamics as they exist between groups in society as a whole. I can’t say I’m very heartened by Beckett’s conclusions thus far. Nor I am surprised—it’s one way he’s made this particular alien world all too human