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Dark Eden Paperback – April 1, 2014
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A Conversation with Chris Beckett, author of Dark Eden
Q. Dark Eden began as a short story. What attracted you to the “Adam and Eve in space” angle and a sunless planet as the setting?
A. What draws me (and a lot of people, I think) to science fiction as a form is that it allows you to do big thought experiments. I’m interested in how societies grow and change, and what better way of exploring that than starting again with just two people and trying to imagine what would happen?
I’m fairly sure I first got the idea of a sunless world from the antique computer on which I wrote the short story called “The Circle of Stones” (back in 1992). It was so antique that it had green letters on a black screen, the opposite to writing on paper, where the background is light and the writing is dark. I’m fairly certain this was the origin of the image in my mind of a sunless forest filled with luminous trees. When I started thinking about it, it had so many possibilities. How would such a world function? How would its life evolve? How would time be measured? The sunlessness of Eden also underlines the sense of loss that the people of Eden feel. Generations on, they long for the world their ancestors came from, where the sky was filled with light.
Q. How concerned are you about plausibility and scientific accuracy? Do you think the planet Eden could really exist?
A. I’m not a “hard” science fiction writer. I run with my own intuitions, and what seems to work from the point of view of the story.
That said, I want my worlds to feel plausible to the reader. It struck me as likely that there would be planets in space that were not attached to particular stars (and I’m pleased to say that science confirms my hunch: they do exist and are known as “rogue planets”). It seemed to be, too, that life could still evolve in the absence of a sun, provided that the planet still had a hot core. After all, on earth there are life forms that are solely powered by geothermal heat (entire geothermal ecosystems exist around deep ocean volcanic vents, far from the sun’s reach). There are also lakes underneath the ice in Antarctica, such as Lake Vostok, where the water is liquid because of the heat from below. I see life on Eden as having evolved in such places and then slowly transformed the world around it.
One little problem—it was first pointed out to me by a schoolboy when I was giving a talk!—is the question of how the human population of Eden obtains vitamin D, which of course on Earth we mainly obtain by synthesizing it in our skins using sunlight. I decided that, on Eden, there were sufficient dietary sources of the vitamin, but perhaps I was allowing myself a bit of poetic license here. I’m not sure how likely it is that all the nutrients that human beings require would be available in an alien diet. But then again, who knows? Perhaps for life to exist at all, it needs to have similar chemistry to our own?
Q. Many people comment on the language in Dark Eden, which is slightly different from English. What was your reason for this decision, and why did you change the language in the way you did?
A. I felt I needed to acknowledge that after 160 years without any contact with Earth, the language of Eden would have changed. The Adam and Eve figures—Tommy and Gela—came from Brooklyn, New York, and Peckham in South London, so the language would obviously still be English, but not exactly either American English or British English as we know them.
The people of Eden would have given new names to things that did not exist on Earth, but at first they would tend to name them after familiar things. A spotted predator is called a “leopard,” for instance, but its resemblance to leopards on Earth is pretty tenuous.
In the absence of days, nights, or years, they would have developed new ways of talking about time. They speak in terms of wakings and sleeps, and while they still have the concept of a “year,” it seems pretty arbitrary to them, and they often refer to “wombtimes” —the human gestation period— as a rough way of measuring longer times.
Words that they had no use for would be forgotten. When they first encounter an ocean, for instance, after many landlocked generations, they no longer remember the words “ocean” or “sea” and have to coin a new name.
Finally, the first generation born on Eden would have lived in a family where there were no adults but Mom and Dad. Parents with young children tend to lapse into baby talk a bit, I’ve noticed, even when the children aren’t present, and I felt that this might result in a permanent change to the language, in the absence of a wider adult world to draw the language back to its more “adult” form: hence the duplicated adjectives (“big big” instead of “very big”) and the tendency to drop direct articles.
More About the Author
The Turing Test, won the Edge Hill Short Fiction Award in 2009, the UK's only national prize for single-author short-story collections. Dark Eden won the Arthur C. Clarke award in 2013.
More information about his writing can be found at www.chris-beckett.com
Chris Beckett's background is in social work and he has also written several text books on social work.
Top Customer Reviews
Much has been made about how Beckett has twisted standard English to indicate the sort of drift we'd expect in a long-isolated community. I have very little patience for stories and novels written in dialect, and I want to reassure readers with similar dispositions that Beckett takes this no further than is necessary to get the point across. Instead of saying that a couple "slept" together, he says that they "slipped" together. He sometimes leaves out conjunctions, so that "two or three" becomes "two three," and sometimes uses repetition instead of intensifiers, so that "very big" becomes "big big," but that's about it. This is really not something to get excited about, either positively or negatively.
Much has also been made about Beckett's world-building skills as evidenced in the strangeness of Eden. Eden is a rogue planet, meaning that it orbits no star and therefore has no light or heat beyond what it generates itself.Read more ›
In the case of Eden this means developing an eco-system that isn't reliant on a bright, cheerful sun, and which is occupied by strange life forms, and a small population of humans, all descended from two people.
WHAT WORKED FOR ME was the world building. It was innovative and interesting. I also thought the human population was suitably rank: being dominated by the extremely old, and populated by the genetic problems that arise when you have excessive inbreeding.
WHAT DIDN'T WORKED FOR ME were the characters. I never ever cared for them. I understand John and appreciated his efforts to keep people from starving, but the way he handled the problem was counter productive and didn't really jive with how intelligent he was supposed to be.
THUS... At the 85% point, I threw my hands up into the air and said ENOUGH!!! I don't freakin' care.
WHAT HAPPENED to elicit this response was a change in the narrative. First, we were no longer seeing events through the eyes of Tina and John. We were getting Sue Redlantern and others telling us what they thought. (I barely know these people. Why are they here at the end of the story?)
Secondly, Tina changed. No longer spirited, she became whiny and no different than most of the oldmums back at Family. In fact, she changed so completely that she developed a new speech pattern which left her referring to John as that 'bloke'. A word that was not previously amongst the few few simple words that the people used.Read more ›
Dark Eden is the story of the descendants of the space ship Defiant. Like the Mayflower, the Defiant left Earth seeking freedom from oppression. But upon arriving on the planet Eden, new problems arose, forcing some of the crew to return to Earth and leave three behind to await rescue. Six generations later, the three have grown into a small community—genetically dysfunctional, but a community nonetheless calling themselves the Family. More than 500 people now live in Circle Forest—a piece of land that glows with neon life amidst the perpetual darkness of Eden. But population increase has not had a positive effect; times are getting harder and harder.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Five humans from Earth left on a space mission but due to their space craft breaking down, they landed on what came to be known as Eden. Read morePublished 15 days ago by AudioBook Reviewer
The world was very imaginative and brought to life. The switching points of view kept the story fresh and allowed for a complete reveal of the mystery of the civilization's... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Lauren G
This book is actually the first book I have read in a long time and I am so happy I chose it. This story is so unique and different but at the same time extremely inspiring in its... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Alex George
I simply cannot express how horrified and delighted I was by this book. It was so well written, and so full of humanity. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Wynne Linden
I don't get the one and two-star reviews. Really. This is a tour de force in world-building fiction and a darn good yarn, as well. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Brashboy
When a group of four people have to land on an unknown planet to regroup and repair their ship, they decide to split into two groups - a man and woman who do not want to risk the... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Rachel
Definitely different from what I usually read, but I enjoyed it. The characters are well defined, the setting is also well defined so that you can imagine yourself in their place.Published 5 months ago by Betty L. Sheridan