Count me as an admirer of author Chris Beckett. The third in his Eden series has been on my bookshelf for some days. It’s a good conclusion to the good work begun in Dark Eden (reviewed here) and continued in Mother of Eden (reviewed here).
It’s hard to categorize these books as science fiction. They have a futuristic premise: a man and woman are stranded on a planet. They have kids. Generations that follow relive Earth’s Stone and early Bronze Ages. A once-close extended family begins to tear apart along the lines of the sexes, the haves and the have-nots, and are pressured by dwindling resources and genetic inbreeding.
Daughter of Eden follows a new narrative thread about ten years after book two. As with Mother of Eden, the reader follows a parallel narrative of Angie Redlantern. Chapters alternate between her life before bearing children and after. She is a protégé of a traveling religious figure. Mary’s motives seem mixed. Angie is perceptive enough to have doubts, but she also struggles with the human experience of faith: meditation, pilgrimage, listening for God’s voice, and placing oneself in the service of healing the hurts of others. Other critics have suggested a strong theological bent in these books, but I think this volume develops it the best. Still, the reader is left wondering with the protagonist: is religion just fakery? Can we trust the motivations of religious figures?
Halfway through the book, the narratives merge and the reader learns why Angie left the “religious” life and settled with a man to have a family. The backdrop of all this is that open warfare has broken out between two rival groups. Men are slaughtered on both sides and cruel punishments are meted out to the families of the vanquished. Refugees swarm into the original landing site just in time for a second Earth expedition to land. Advanced technology takes its toll on faith (the original mother, Gela, is revered as a goddess), gender roles (Eden’s societies are patriarchal and the mission commander is female), and the state of conflict between humans on Eden.
As with Mr Beckett’s other books, the characters are of mixed virtue. We wrestle with Angie and her misgivings about life as a wife of a deformed man, a mother to children (half of whom have survived infancy), a target of rape from her brother-in-law, and the dulling routine of life first as a member of the Bronze Age 99% and then as a homeless refugee from war. The most complex person is Mary, the traveling prophet. I didn’t like her at first, but as the encounter with the Earth explorers reaches a boiling point, I began to appreciate her viewpoint and her willingness to adjust her beliefs without abandoning them.
I can recommend this series–you can read this book on its own without losing more than a bit. But imagining the plight of Eden’s people is troubling. The stark realities of genetics, religion, technology (or lack thereof), abuse, gender conflict, class struggle, violence, and such can be difficult to absorb–certainly not cheerful reading. But it’s honest. And like the best science fiction, it provokes serious thought.