Like Daniel F. Galouye’s Dark Universe or Jack Vance’s The Blue World, Beckett’s (The Peacock Cloak, 2013, etc.) newest is a story of survivors in an alien environment who have more or less forgotten their origins.
Planet Eden has no sun. In its place are huge trees pumping hot water up from subterranean volcanic rivers, which power the ecology. Both flora and fauna make their own tiny lights (but why wouldn’t they adapt to the perpetual dark by evolving different senses or capabilities?). Two humans, Tommy and Angela, were stranded here, and now, six generations later, have incestuously bred a large family plagued by genetic disorders, held together by a deteriorating law and oral culture, which remembers without understanding such terms as lecky-trickity and Rayed Yo. Family members long for the bright sun of Earth (but how would they know? All lights on Eden are dim and feeble) and, since they believe Tommy and Angela’s three companions returned to Earth to bring help, cling to the spot where the Landing Veekle will touch down, even though the valley they inhabit is too small to accommodate the growing population and starvation looms. Young John Redlantern wonders what lies beyond the ice-covered mountains that confine the valley and attempts to persuade the family’s female rulers that they must migrate or die. In a bold yet calculated act, he destroys the circle of stones that mark the landing spot and is exiled for his trouble. John, though, has his supporters, including love interest Tina Spiketree, Gerry (who follows John like a dog), and club-footed, highly intelligent Jeff. Thus the stage is set for a parting of ways, exploration, conflict, murder and the erasure of accepted truths. The narrative unfolds via several first-person accounts, which allows Beckett to develop a perspective on his archetypal main characters. Absorbing if often familiar, inventive and linguistically adept but less than fully satisfying—there’s no climax, and a sequel seems assured. Despite all this, the book was extravagantly praised in Beckett’s native U.K.
Enjoyable but no blockbuster.