Sunday, May 18, 2014

book review—Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

somewhat interesting, but a bit of a slog

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books.

I want to give this author some credit for an interesting idea. The closest things I can compare it to are classic stories like Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson, and maybe the more recent movie Castaway, though it's very different in setting and tone from those.

Maybe that's one of my main hang-ups with this story, too.

For me, the first several chapters were a bit of a slog. I found it difficult to feel much of anything except annoyance at any of the characters. Everyone's interest seemed to solely focused on sleeping, eating, and having sex (called “slipping” in this book). Family structures are nonexistent, the consequences of which show up in the large number of people with various kinds of genetic deformities.

It does get better towards the middle and end, though not much outside of location has changed for the main group of characters. I thought the chapters being essentially written or narrated by different characters provide some points of interest, for example in how different characters viewed the same events or even each other.

One of the big problem I had was with the planet itself. Perhaps I am only showing my ignorance concerning how such a planet might really be, but if it's either a free-floating rock not orbiting any star, or doesn't rotate on an axis so that one side is always in night, then I'd think that such a place would be almost as cold as the vacuum of space, and humans could be unable to live there, especially in such a primitive fashion.

Another problem with the story could to traced to one of the big differences it has from works like Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson. It's been many years since I've read either of those books, but I do remember that they were books solidly rooted in the Christian view of things, thus the characters sought to improve their lots and had some idea of how to do it.

For example, in his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton wrote “Crusoe is a man on a small rock with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing in the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck. The greatest of poems is an inventory. Every kitchen tool becomes ideal because Crusoe might have dropped it in the sea.” Orthodoxy (p. 56). Some of the better scenes in Castaway are when the stranded character opens up boxes to find out what's in them, and to find ways to make use of those things in his current situation.

In Dark Eden, though, the few things they have from Earth are kept locked away, taken out and shown only at special occasions, more useless to them than museum pieces. There is a lot of talk about things people had and did on Earth, but that's about where it begins and ends. There's more to admire in The Professor on Gilligan's Island making a contraption out of coconuts, bamboo, and one of Ginger's hairpins then the sad community in this book.

I can't say that I really like this book, though I didn't come away disliking it all that much, either. Some of the talk about slipping (sex) got a bit much for me, though the overall casual sexual practices (and the results) were most uncomfortable. Still, there is a good story there, but for me, I'm not sure it's worth slogging into again.

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