(2015) Chris Beckett, Del Rey, £12.99, trdpbk, 468pp, ISBN 978-1-782-39234-7
I am not a great re-reader, unlike my wife who has books she calls ‘comfort reads’. For me there are just so many other books on my ‘to read’ shelves, and so even if something firmly grabs my attention, it becomes a ‘maybe’. (There are of course exceptions – H. P. Lovecraft being the most obvious). So when I received this book to review, the question was, ‘Am I going to re-read its predecessor?’
Well, I am glad I did. Dark Eden, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award for 2013 bears any number of re-reads. The story of a colony on a far-away planet, the myths it has created about the original astronauts and how John Redlantern decides to break away from the restrictions of their life and create a new colony, has so many echoes of other books and films, from Earth Abides by George Stewart to all those teenage rebellion films.
In this sequel, we are now several generations further down the line, and there are a number of different people-groups, with varying types of society. The main characters are Starlight Brooking, from a small, egalitarian tribe who build the finest fishing boats, and Greenstone Johnson, heir-apparent to the leader of a larger, more aggressive tribe. It is love at first sight. They meet at a common trading post set up around the Veeklehouse, part of the original lander on the planet.
The bulk of the rest of the book is taken up with how Starlight and Greenstone try to change the society of New Earth, Greenstone’s tribe. What men say goes, at least on the surface, and if anyone questions this they are put to death, thrown over a precipice. But part of the mythology is that the wife of the headman bears Gela’s Ring (Angela was one of the original colonists) and is known as Mother, imbued with seeming magic powers. And so after Greenstone’s father dies, they attempt to use this myth to improve society by stirring up the worse-off parts of society to rebel against those who would hold them down. But when push comes to shove, the rebellion fails, Greenstone goes over the cliff, and Starlight escapes to live another day (and provide another part of the myth for, I suspect, the next book).
There are many different issues being tackled in this book – sexism (the men are always right, how dare you challenge them), disability (many of the population have inherited a distinct physical attribute and so are known as ‘Batface’ and are looked down on), racism (no society is as good as New Earth, the others are just there to be exploited), elitism (Starlight is viewed as ignorant and uncivilised and has to be ‘educated’), …. I could go on. At times it felt more like ‘let’s see what is the next -ism I can have a pop at’.
Having said all that, I enjoyed the book, but not as much as the first volume, and look forward to the next Eden.
See also Jonathan's review of Mother of Eden.
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