Monday, November 9, 2015

Eden Green - Fiona Van Dahl

Eden Green is a blend of sci-fi and horror by Fiona Van Dahl. It begins with the concept of a parasite, one which will merge with and regenerate its host. Functional immortality  and heroic endurance are perks. Of course, these things come with a price. There’s also the question of where the parasite came from, and what this means to both the protagonist and to humanity as a whole.
There’s some really interesting ideas in Eden Green. The idea of a symbiont that works to regenerate its host is intriguing. It allows exploration of a couple of themes – most immediately, that of power. When an individual has seemingly superhuman strength, and can recover from repeated mortal wounds, then what does that do to the individual? How do they cope, in a world where they are something other than normal? It’s a theme that has been explored elsewhere, but Eden Green approaches these questions unflinchingly, and with a degree of nuance which was enjoyable to see on the page.

It also approaches the question of identity. As an individual is regenerated by their symbiont, the question arises of whether they are, in fact, human any longer. The role of identity is touched on, and the author isn’t afraid to examine the effects of a changing or even lost sense of self. The actions of the symbiont prove an excellent way to do this, and the interactions between characters as they attempt to resolve who they are, who they think they are, and what defines them as, well, themselves, is an interesting read. 

The first section of the book revolves around the protagonist, Eden Green, as she’s drawn into the world of the symbiont, and the creatures that inhabit that world. The author sketches Green well – a focused, rational individual, with a penchant for logic and lists, and a genuine sense of caring for her friend. Her supporting cast includes the aforesaid friend, and a mysterious individual who first provided that friend with the symbiont. Eden’s chum is also well done – a scatty trouble-magnet, with the ability to make extremely dubious decisions, usually for all the wrong reasons. I was quickly joining our protagonist in sighing in frustration at her friend when she appeared on the page and did something incredibly, but plausibly, unfortunately, wrong. The third of this band, the mysterious stranger, I didn’t enjoy as much initially. There’s a sense of power there, certainly, and something of danger, but the character doesn’t quite work in that mould – their dialogue a tad disjointed, their actions not tied together with quite enough narrative rope. On the other hand, there’s some excellent notes of genuine menace there – the character seemed like a solid base, which needed a bit more building up to have the narrative impact required.

As the book progresses, all three of this central core of characters change – the degree of change depending somewhat on the narrative. I give credit to the author for trying something ambitious, showing us the descent of individuals, and the way that they alter as their perceptions of themselves shifts. I think the sense of confusion that laces the text is a great way to convey this mood, but also that the reader could use a few more signposts, even if the characters don’t get to see them – some later segments felt a little scattershot, and I was trying to figure out what was going on as much as Eden. Maybe this is intentional, but I think a little more signposting would have helped the flow of the text.

Plot-wise – there’s some excellent sections here. Eden’s initial encounters with her friend, and with the creatures that seem to be involved with the symbiont, are deliberate, well paced, and explode occasionally in compulsive action sequences. As the scope of the text broadens, the narrative momentum seems to be lost a tad – there’s a middle section which has ramifications for the narrative, but seems either longer or shorter than it needs to be. The author does well at evoking the sense of the human and the alien internally – and the city our protagonist lives in is drawn with enough detail to feel real, but it, and other environments, could use a little more texture in order to make them come alive.

Is it worth reading? I’d say so. There’s some intriguing thoughts in here, ideas about humanity, about what makes us who and what we are, which are worth pursuing. I a little more polishing - and in some instances a cleaner narrative structure – would do wonders for the text, but right now, it’s an interesting, emotionally punishing read, with some interesting things to say.

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