Mother Of Eden (book 2) by Chris Beckett (book review)

June 26, 2015 | By | Reply More

Chris Beckett’s ‘Dark Eden’ was an excellent novel and my opinion was confirmed by its winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award. The planet Eden and the society that had developed on it were so well thought out and captivating that I have been intrigued to see what would happen next. Eden is an orphan world, sailing alone through interstellar space with no sun to provide heat or light. Geothermal energy provides patchy heat and the plant life that grows in those warm valleys fluoresce in numerous colours to provide light. The entire population is descended from the two original astronauts who were stranded there. For my thoughts on the original story and on incest, see my review of ‘Dark Eden’. http://sfcrowsnest.org.uk/dark-eden-book-1-by-chris-beckett-book-review/

‘Mother Of Eden’ takes place several generations later when the population has expanded massively in number and spread out to many locations over the surface of the planet. This expansion and the resulting social and political situation, is a direct result of the events of the previous book. Just as in the last instalment, I was impressed and completely convinced by the way Chris Beckett has extrapolated his society from the very narrow beginning he set up for himself. What would the population be like when they are not only very inbred but also mostly illiterate, uneducated and in extremely limiting circumstances?

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The answer is sometimes amusing, sometimes touching and often intriguing. The entire population share the same few names, those of the original astronauts and their children, in numerous variations. So there are lots of Johns and Harrys, Angela, Angie, Gela, David and Dave and then people named after objects: Starlight, Glitterfish, Quietstream and Greenstone are some of the main characters. Rather cleverly, even when several characters share the same name, there’s never any confusion about who is being referred to. This dearth of names is only one aspect of the limited vocabulary known to the Edenites. Anything that was not named by the original castaways or that was not present in Circle Valley, where the first several generations lived, has a purely descriptive name. Settlements are called things such as Brown River and Main Ground and newly discovered geographical features are given names such as the inland sea called Worldpool and villages called houseplaces because the correct words have been long forgotten. There are also no superlatives in their vocabulary, so they use repetition for emphasis:

“Well, that was interesting. That was interesting interesting.”

“…he was angry angry.”

“…it was different different now.”

The entire novel is told in the first person from several different points of view and this limited vocabulary and naïveté give a wonderful insight into their culture and upbringing and do nothing to diminish the power of Chris Beckett’s prose.

In ‘Mother Of Eden’, most of the population of Eden are split into Johnfolk and Davidfolk, with a few other unaligned settlements, who have continued the historic enmity that began in ‘Dark Eden’. In a moment of unknowing insight, Starlight Brooking asks:

  “But what’s the difference now? What do they do that’s actually different? Why do they hate each other so much?”

Why indeed? Starlight Brooking leaves her small island community and travels to other, larger towns and lands, discovering strange customs and creatures, kindness, cruelty and love. She confronts the already-warped history and mythology of their planet as well as her own attitudes and upbringing. We watch on sadly as the primitive settlements attain to ‘civilisation’ and all the woes that come with it. As a social commentary, the book is devastatingly incisive. As a story of discovery, friendship and yearning for acceptance, it is truly wonderful.

Gareth Jones

June 2015

(pub: Corvus Books/Atlantic Books. 468 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-1782-39235-4)

check out websites: www.corvus-books.co.uk, www.atlantic-books.co.uk and www.chris-beckett.com

Category: Books, Scifi

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