Science Fiction & Fantasy Award Winning Book Group discussion

Dark Eden (Dark Eden, #1)
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Group Book Discussion > Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (September 2019)

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Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 331 comments Mod
This month we're reading Dark Eden by Chris Beckett because it won the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Critics have praised Dark Eden for its 'rich biological and sociological speculation' and 'theological nuance'. Award judges said: 'Beckett really makes you care for characters who are stranded light years from an Earth they have never really known'.

Chris Beckett is also a social worker, which is not a career I usually associate with SF authors, so I'm interested to see where he goes with this 'character study of unconscious political ambition'.


Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 331 comments Mod
My initial impressions are that this is fun YA read. It reminds me a lot of The Knife of Never Letting Go, which I think we also read for this group?

The language is simple and readable. The world is a community oppressive in its smallness. The hero is a young boy on the cusp of manhood who rebels against it all. Nobody understands him; he is so dark and brooding.

I'm enjoying it, but I think it's going to be another one of those books where I find it a fun beach-read, but not necessarily award-worthy. Maybe I'm being too harsh on what counts as award-worthy, or maybe Beckett will surprise me...


message 3: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon | 342 comments Mod
About 70 pages in

Not sure how much your comment influenced me as I read it before I started the book but I'm definitely getting TKoNLG vibes. Young male, alien planet, linguistic variances, a kind of dystopian feel...

He's also a bit of a Marty Stu. Most attractive young man in the group. All of the females (young and old) are attracted to him. The males either look up to him or dislike him because he's so good. Super brave in killing a leopard by himself. The only one (?) smart or curious enough in 200 womb cycles to question what the group is actually doing, etc. Not a deal killer for me but I know some people really dislike this.

I am enjoying the world building. The ecology is interesting given that there is no sun.


Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 331 comments Mod
I am strongly inclined to forgive over-powered heroes and heroines if I think I'm reading a teenage hero's-journey type of story. It fits the mould, and there is a time in life when one really needs to have perfect characters to emulate - but yeah, I can see why some people hate it.

I like the ecology too! I'm assuming that there's some kind of hot core which is powering the life on the planet, like those creatures that live around super-heated vents at the bottom of the ocean and never see the sun?


message 5: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon | 342 comments Mod
Nick wrote: ..., like those creatures that live around super-heated vents at the bottom of the ocean and never see the sun?

Yes I think you're right. It seems just like that.

Through Ch 14 - pg 152

Didn't expect to see founder effect when I started this one. I wonder if it will be used in the story or if it's just a natural result of the way the story is set up and is just a part of the worldbuilding.

I'm still a little torn with this one. Some of the story is really interesting but some of it feels like I've read it before.


Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 331 comments Mod
Spoilers ahoy! -

Even though the plot is a little archetypical, I've got to say that I think it's really good. This is a pretty wonderful depiction of social dynamics.

So much of the fights between people are frustratingly not about the actual facts or subject at hand, but about the relative social status of people in the argument. Would the group be so resistant to the idea of spreading out and exploring if the suggestion had come from someone prestigious, not a bolshy kid like John? Would Caroline and Bella have talked the group round eventually or was it necessary for John to break the circle to get some action?

I can't help feeling that John broke the circle, not so much to motivate the group, as to motivate himself. Even though he was independent-minded, even John couldn't resist group pressure that much. He needed to cause the rift, to force the group to force him to do what he couldn't quite do under his own steam.

It all comes back to this idea of people wanting to make themselves the hero of a story. If John had just quietly packed a bag and gone off to the high camp by himself would it have all turned out very differently?


message 7: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon | 342 comments Mod
Through Ch 25 - pg 252

I saw John's breaking the circle more as vandalism, or lashing out at the family. I know he justified it differently but I saw it more as an emotional response. As smart as he is supposed to be he couldn't really think that destroying the circle would be any type of motivation for the rest of them.

My big problem now is the origin story for the family. That's really hard for me to buy.

Everything else is pretty good. John and Tina have been fleshed out a little more and I'm still loving the worldbuilding.


Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 331 comments Mod
You mean that Angela and Tommy had children at all? I do think that if it was me in that situation I probably would've abstained!


message 9: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon | 342 comments Mod
Yeah I would've opted out of the first generation in that situation too. But it's the second and third generations where I was . . . just no.

Loved the snow leopard scene although I thought they solved the problem a little too easily. What did John see when he looked over the cliff edge and down into the cavern?


message 10: by Nick (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 331 comments Mod
I have more sympathy for the second and third generations than Tommy and Angela. The kids grew up all alone on this dark planet, they have all the normal human desires and no larger culture to teach them that incest is disgusting, immoral, and dangerous. What exactly did T & A expect was going to happen? They should've forseen this would be the consequence and never started it.

I think he saw some kind of giant snake? I guess it would make sense that life on the surface (being furthest away from the heat of the core) is actually the most scarce and pitiful, and there's much more biodiversity in underground caverns.


message 11: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon | 342 comments Mod
Incest taboos vary across cultures although most (maybe all) cultures have them. Nature or nurture would be the important question here. Does it have to be taught? As you say, T & A knew exactly what had to happen. It wasn't the sibling incest that I found so egregious but the parent-child incest.

A snake makes sense. All I could think of was that he had seen a column of people walking through but then I couldn't imagine that he would just let that go.


message 12: by Nick (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 331 comments Mod
I suspect it doesn't have to be taught in a normal environment. If there is anybody else whose not your sibling then you prefer that somebody else. But the unfortunate isolation makes the sex attraction stronger than the incest repulsion.

On the whole I thought the book did portray a culture without strong sexual morals well though. Especially the abuse between Bella and John and his conflicting feelings about how he admires her and respects her but still doesn't want it and just disassociates.
Also the tension between all the young people wanting to be promiscuous, but also being jealous. And the tragedy of John wanting to know his own children. I thought it was very sad, and well shown.


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