The writing within Dark Eden is absolutely fantastic. Mr. Beckett builds the world of Eden solely through John’s observations and inner monologues. Yet the vision one gets of this unusual world is as vivid as if one were viewing a picture of it. For a world in which nothing is familiar, this is quite a feat because the weird and unusual becomes familiar and ordinary.
Mr. Beckett also uses the evolution of language to create its own story. One gets an understanding of just how isolated the Family truly is by the transformation of certain words and phrases. There is a familiarity to them that allows readers to recognize their origins but also a strangeness to their usage that denotes their foreignness to the Family. It is a tricky bit of writing that brilliantly identifies the Family as human in spite of all their differences in habitats.
Dark Eden is the type of story to raise the debate about the definition of a young adult novel. After all, John is barely thirteen at the outset of the story. However, in many ways, John is more of an adult than most adults. He not only expresses an understanding of human sociology and evolution that others fear, he leads an entire group of people into unknown parts of the planet. He successfully establishes a new Family, creates new methods of travel, uses strategy to help motivate and encourage, and recognizes the human need for a belief system. It is an amazing set of achievements for someone so young in age if not in mind.
Then there is casualness of sex. In many ways, one can easily explain the callousness of the act due the its necessity. Sex, or slipping to use the verbiage of the story, does not just feel good. It is the means of survival as it ensures there are future generations to care for the elderly and carry forward the stories of their origins. There is no romance or emotion to the act because there is no need when the function is purely procreation.
There is also the harsh world in general. Eden is in many ways a primitive world, and the Family is just as basic in their survival skills. They are hunters and gatherers, just as prehistoric humans were back in the day. This requires a skill in hunting and tracking and an ability to deal with the messy details of preparing a kill for usage. John and his friends may be young in years, but their skills and understanding of the dangers of their world far exceed anything modern, first-world humans have to face.
Further cementing the arguments against Dark Eden as a young adult novel are John’s actions. His thoughts about the Family, the Three Companions, the Oldest, Mother Angela, and the rest of the Family’s origins are very mature, while his actions show a decisiveness and firm determination that have nothing to do with his age. His choices to move away from Family and into Snowy Dark highlight his understanding of his changing world and the need to adapt. Some may argue that his youth means he does not know enough to be fearful about change, but this reader does not think so. His maturity allows him to foresee the path set for the Family if they do not spread out and explore other parts of Eden. This is not change for change’s sake but a true need.
John is a slippery character to define. He shows signs of being a brilliant leader but always stops short of executing that leadership. He knows what needs to be done and can motivate others into working but he does not shirk from doing hard work himself. He takes on a tremendous amount of responsibility that he simultaneously relishes and abhors. He understands the need for changes to the Family but does not know when to stop. Lastly, for all of his brilliant strategies and plans, he has very little people skills. He needs people to help him achieve his goals, but he doesn’t like people enough to let them into his inner sanctum. Even his closest friends both love and hate him because of this duality. Readers will also find themselves loving him for his individuality and courage and hating him for his prickliness and inability to leave well enough alone.
Dark Eden is the best type of science fiction in that it uses the familiar to create the unfamiliar. Mr. Beckett pushes the boundaries of language to establish the differences between the Family and the reader. Similarly, the brilliantly clear descriptions of the foreign setting actively engages a reader’s imagination without overtaxing it. The characters are familiarly multi-faceted even while the pressures they face remain unusual. By capitalizing on the similarities as well as the differences, Mr. Beckett creates a highly engaging and thought-provoking novel about survival and humanity.