A theological and philosophical sci-fi you should definitely seek out
Dark Eden, written by Chris Beckett, tells the story of a colony of humans on the planet Eden who are all the descendants of two stranded astronauts, Tommy and Angela. Eden is not like Earth. It’s dark and full of mysterious alien creatures like nothing we would recognise to be animals. The group refer to themselves as Family and all they know of Earth is what has passed down from Tommy and Angela, most of which is misconstrued and has ascended into myth rather than fact. Family wait by The Circle (literally a circle of stones), hoping that one day Earth will come and rescue them. The main narrative focus is on one young man, John Redlantern and his mission to explore Eden and expand Family beyond the area that was chosen for them to wait for a rescue.
The result of procreation between close family members has resulted in a number of the aptly named Family having congenital conditions (called Clawfoot and Batface) and learning difficulties. The members of family are generally uneducated and have not evolved to think for themselves nor have they made any sort of advancement in technology since Tommy and Angela were stranded. In the opposite, they have regressed and do not understand things we consider to be basic pieces of technology such computers or radios or electricity. They’re primitive humans on a primitive planet. This gives rise to interesting linguistic devices used by Beckett where the humans of Eden use repetition of words e.g. “bad bad” instead of “very bad” as well as different spellings like “Veekle”. It’s an interesting way to highlight that these people essentially have no idea what they are talking about. They’ve heard of these things in stories but have absolutely no idea how they work.
The world Beckett has imagined is anything but an eden. It’s constantly in darkness and has given rise to creatures and plantlife that emit luminescence. We’re not given too much information on the landscape except that it has forest (made up of trees which emit light), mountainous regions and there is water. But the story isn’t really about the sci-fi element. That’s just a mask for the more interesting issues in the book which is the people and their ideological differences.
Their society has different morals and standards than humans on Earth do. There’s no marriage, for example, and children rarely know who their fathers are. There’s no concept of individual families, more like large groups who live in the same general area. As on Earth, killing is strictly forbidden but the difference on Eden is that nobody breaks the rules. There’s never been a killing. Everyone is expected to fall in line. It’s a close-knit society (and family) born of incest which means everybody has direct link to those people who wrote the rules.
And this is where the interesting conflict is. John thinks that Family needs to spread out, explore and aspire to create a better life for themselves. But in doing so he is going against the establishment in a way that nobody has ever done before. Family is traditionally an inward looking group. Nobody has ever considered looking beyond what they already know. They’re not interested in having their beliefs questioned. The elders of the group have never even considered questioning their place on the planet or what they should do with their lives. They religiously follow the ‘rules’ set down by their ‘mother’ Angela. This gives rise to an interesting theological debate.
John is egotistical and cold but knows what he is doing is right. Supplies are low in Family and somebody needs to explore further. Family are scared that John is tearing them apart and changing the traditions of Family. John is logical and rational. He knows that they can’t stay at Circle forever. They need to advance, to grow, to spread out. But their values and beliefs are holding them back, preventing them from aspiring to something more in life. It’s a really interesting way to pose a theological debate.
EXCELLENT. Dark Eden is a fascinating piece of theological exploration in a science-fiction setting.