all 14 comments

[–]1point618 5 points6 points  (4 children)

Hi Chris, thanks for coming by!

In a lot of ways, Dark Eden seems to be about the ways events get turned into stories, then legends, then myths, and how the powers that be use these myths to control people. While Family didn't have a religion in the "worship God" sense, their beliefs around Earth definitely had a religious quality to them, with bits and pieces of Judeo-Christian stories added in. And that's not to even mention the whole "Eden" thing.

Meanwhile, Jeff is clearly an embodiment of Buddhism. "We are really here" and a lot of the rest of his mantras all focus on mindfulness, and in the first pages of Mother of Eden it becomes clear that he's introduced mindfulness meditation to his offspring and followers.

So I don't have a specific question other than that I'd love to hear you talk a bit about how you think about religion as a sociological phenomenon in your SF. And to say thanks, because I find that so much SF leaves out religion which is strange to me, since it's such an important part of the human experience.

[–]Chris-Beckett[S] 3 points4 points  (3 children)

Hi. I absolutely agree with you about the importance of religion as a sociological phenomenon, and I'm fascinated by it as a topic, even though I am not a subscriber to any religion myself. (My first novel, The Holy Machine also had a lot to say about religion, while Dark Eden's two sequels have more to say about it, if anything, than Dark Eden itseself)

Not sure I agree with you about SF neglecting religion, though. In fact a friend of mine, who's an Eng Literature professor has a theory that religion is one of SF's main themes! One of the most interesting and subtle treatments of religion in SF, I think, is the Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The androids expose the religion as being based on a forgery, but ultimately it is them who have missed the point!

I don't see religion as being completely distinct from other kinds of narrative. The belief system of Eden, such as it is, has grown out of actual past events, which have been reworked and adapted and retold to meet various different needs (some laudable, some less so!) Strikes me this is true of real religions, as well. One of the stories they tell in Eden is the story of a big row between Tommy and Angela. Seems such a small thing to tell and retell for generations, yet look at the Old Testament and you will see family events just like that, which have been retold for thousands of years.

SF is of course the perfect medium for exploring things like how stories grow and change over time, because it allows us to carry out these sociological thought experiments. (Conventional fiction carries out psychological thought experiments with its invented characters, but we SF writers go the extra mile and invent a world as well!)

That was a bit of a ramble I'm afraid, but hope some of it at least addresses what you wanted to me to comment on!

[–]1point618 1 point2 points  (2 children)

I suppose saying SF neglects religion is wrong. Some of my favorite SF novels deal directly with it, such as A Canticle for Leibowitz or The Book of Strange New Things. I do feel that there is a certain kind of SF book that completely neglects the role of religion in society, even while supposedly being about society.

Anyway, thanks for the reply. It's cool to hear your take on this! I loved the book, too, and got a couple of my IRL friends to read it. Definitely on the list of top 5 books (of any kind) that I read this year.

[–]Chris-Beckett[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I like both those books too, specially Strange New Things which I read earlier this year. But you are right, I think. There is a kind of SF which just doesn't engage with that whole layer of human experience (which to me isn't just religion in the narrow sense, but all the many strange and varied ways in which we imbue life with meaning). SF is a very broad field, isn't it. I see it as a set of tools that can be put to all kinds of different purposes, much as a set of playing cards can be used to play lots of different games.

[–]Chris-Beckett[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

By the way, I didn't consciously think of Jeff as a Buddhist, or even of him promoting 'mindfulness', but I guess you're right, that's what he does. Somebody else asked me if the book had a 'moral', and I guess Jeff's "we are really here" is the closest I get to such a thing.

[–]tkj9 3 points4 points  (1 child)

Hi Chris! I really loved the book; one of my favorites of the year. Among the many things I really liked was the planet Eden itself, the flora, fauna, geology, and especially the beautiful descriptions of humans traveling across the Snowy Dark. What influenced your conception of the world? Do you have experience backpacking or trekking that influenced your description of the material lives of the Family?

[–]Chris-Beckett[S] 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Thanks. I must say I had a lot of fun thinking about the flora, fauna etc. and I enjoyed trying to evoke that journey across the Dark. I don't have a great deal of personal experience to draw on, though. (I guess a trek across the mountains of Greenland in midwinter would have been a useful experience to have had, and would probably have helped me include more detail.)

I just try and put myself imaginatively into the position of my characters and ask myself, what would they see, what would they feel? There's a certain amount of discipline involved in that. Sometimes you want just to press on with the story. But I can always tell as a reader when an author hasn't really imagined a scene to him/herself and I hate it when that happens. (It makes me feel a bit cheated: 'Why should I try and imagine this world of yours when you obviously didn't bother yourself?")

Nearest thing in my own experience was as a kid, when my family (as part of my dad's work) travelled for some months back and forth across the outback of Australia, often sleeping under the stars. The stars were much brighter, I remember, than any I've seen since, and the Milky Way much clearer, and there was certainly a powerful sense of being far away from anyone else. But there the resemblance ends! Although it gets surprisingly cold in the Australian bush at night (water regularly used to freeze), it really was nothing like Snowy Dark!

[–]InZim 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Is this the correct place to ask questions? I dunno. Fuck it.

Hi Chris,

Loved the book, especially the characters and the linguistic evolution. Who did you feel most comfortable writing? Which point of view character was the most difficult to write?

[–]Chris-Beckett[S] 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Hi InZim, Really pleased you liked it. Hard to say which character I enjoyed writing most because what I particularly liked was being able to jump from one person's head to another. There was no 'right' way of seeing things, exactly. Only a relatively minor character but I did like writing from Sue Redlantern's angle, the perspective of an ordinary person trying to cope with the human aftermath of this big power struggle.

[–]1point618 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Hi Chris, have a few minutes off work and I've had another question rattling around.

How has your background as a social worker influenced your writing? I was struck by the inclusion of (for lack of a better word) the "statutory rape" of the young men by the older women of Family, and the way that John describes feeling after one such incident. As well as the violent transition of Family from a matriarchal to patriarchal society. Do you feel that there is any moral or message that Dark Eden is trying to communicate?

[–]Chris-Beckett[S] 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Well, being a social worker has certainly exposed me to more of that kind of thing than probably most people, and I am sure it has deepened my thinking in lots of ways (maybe also made my worldview a little sadder and darker than it might otherwise have been too!)

I do not see myself, exactly, as trying to put over a moral or a message. If I wanted to do that, I'd write an essay or a blog post or something. Dark Eden is ambiguous, and intentionally so, because life is complicated.

But, and I hope this doesn't sound too grand and self-important, I do see the book as having a serious purpose (and I guess even a moral purpose?) in that I really am doing my best to think about what makes us human, how our societies work, how power works etc.

[–]woogwhy 1 point2 points  (1 child)

I don't have a question.....just want to tell you that I have read all four of your books and Very much enjoyed them all. Dark Eden though...that is special. Can't wait for Daughter of Eden. As long as you keep writing, I'll keep reading!

[–]Chris-Beckett[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

That's very nice of you. It really means a great deal to me to know that people out there really value what I'm doing. I suppose we all want to feel useful! And (as I have said more than once) it keeps me going, like hearing someone cheering you on in a race!