“The thing that strikes me about the Bible,” Chris Beckett says, “is that a lot of the Old Testament is small domestic stories elevated to a mythical level.” Beckett explores that idea in his new science fiction parable, Dark Eden. His small domestic story begins with Tommy and Angela, an unhappy couple marooned on a tiny, sunless planet called Eden, heated by its core and lit by glowing plants. Supposedly, their fellow astronauts returned to Earth in their damaged ship and will return someday with help. But a few generations later, no help has come, and considerable myth about Tommy, Angela and Earth has sprouted among the couple’s hundreds of inbred descendants. When young John Redlantern points out that the Family’s resources are running out, and they need to spread out beyond their original location (the place they believe the spaceship will come to pick them up), it’s regarded as blasphemy.
“Obviously the Bible story is in there,” notes Beckett. “It’s just turned on its head.” Because, after all, these people have been “expelled to Eden.” The resulting society seems almost childlike, as exemplified by their manner of speaking—they emphasize things by repeating adjectives. For example, John describes his crush, Tina, as “pretty pretty” and an icy stream as “cold cold.”
Beckett explains that “For the first 16 years…the Eden settlers were a bunch of kids and two adults….There’s no external adult world as a reference point,” which explains the childish language. He notes that the adverb “very” is a concept that “arrives later in vocabulary.” Their unsophisticated language and their limited existence means that “it’s quite difficult to write the book because I’m writing from within that world” and it’s hard to “explain that world without analogies.” Because Dark Eden consists of first-person narratives, Beckett can’t use Earth analogies to describe things, because they “wouldn’t be known to the people in the book.”
John Redlantern is determined to force his Family out of their stagnation and into a kind of adulthood, whether they want it or not. He begins by destroying the circle of stones marking the landing place. That destruction and the actions that follow cause a schism in their previously placid society. “It’s sometimes the case that an act that’s really transgressive, that’s cruel, is necessary to break out of the mold,” explains Beckett. “John’s act has opened the way for David Redlantern,” a violent character who at first seems to support the status quo but who then uses the social upheaval to seize power. Although John never intended to harm anyone, his actions lead to a “new dynamic that no one could’ve predicted….By the end of the book it’s clear that something new has to evolve.”
Most of the Family chooses to remain at the landing place, known as Circle Clearing, while John leads a small band of young people to an unexplored area of Eden. Those who stay and those who go both face many travails. “I do think life consists of hard choices like that,” Beckett believes, “both of which involve giving something up.”
Beckett’s next novel, Mother of Eden, explores the tensions and differences between the genders, a theme also raised in the current book. Mother of Eden is set 200 years after the conclusion of Dark Eden and primarily features female narrators. Dark Eden sets the stage by noting that Angela passed down a warning to her daughters about men who “want the story to be all about them.” Beckett explains, “Angela came from our world, a patriarchal society, and thought it was likely to replicate on Eden.” That’s not to say that women can’t also be domineering: “I know there are women who do it. It can be quite destructive.” He also argues that the desire to lead is “not always a bad thing. Sometimes big egos are what we need.”
And after Mother of Eden? “Who knows, I might plan another book,” Beckett offers. “I have more ideas about Eden in me. It’s a laboratory to explore how societies evolve and change.”
Amy Goldschlager is an editor, proofreader and book/audiobook reviewer who lives in New York City. She has worked for several major publishers, and has also contributed to the Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus, ComicMix and AudioFile magazine.