If man walked into the garden of Eden today, would he stuff it up? It’s a good question, and G. R. Paskoff’s fictional exploration of the idea exposes the characteristics of mankind that make this extremely likely.
Eden M51 is a classic science fiction book with a social comment and a metaphysical element appearing at the end. The story begins in the year 2083 with the discovery of a planet in another galaxy that might be habitable. With the earth failing, problems with health in the colonies on the moon and the failure of the Mars colony, the human race desperately needs something more hospitable to colonise. The United States spearheads a mission to the planet for scientific study. The idea being to arrange for colonists to follow as soon as possible if the planet fulfils expectations.
The central character is the captain of the ship, a likeable man of strong moral fibre, and the conflict comes from the attempts of unknown parties to sabotage the ship. The first two thirds of the books is very well done. It kept me reading into the night with just the right amount of mystery and tension. The characters are well-drawn and the plot takes a couple of unexpected turns.
When we get to the planet, however, the tone of the book changes. With the saboteur threat apparently under control and the natives of the planet being very nice, the tension ramps down. It’s a credit to the author that he held my attention just with the descriptions of the beautiful planet and the inhabitants’ peaceful way of life. One angry human character skulked around a bit and did surprise me with the outrageousness of his action, but essentially the content turned from suspense to theological questions when the Captain gets to talk to God, who has been residing on Eden M51 since he left earth in disgust at what he’d created in man. This time, he’s got it perfect, but now man has arrived to stuff it all up.
There is conflict amongst the human travellers when they realise that bringing humans to the planet will destroy the inhabitants ways of life and most likely the planet itself. They will ravage it as they have ravaged earth. The question is, can they stop it and how?
Some may find the ending a little of a let-down after the previous suspense, but I still found it interesting. My biggest issue was the character of Snelling. He was too obviously the bad guy and had no redeeming features. He needed more subtlety and more complexity.
He seemed excessively rude for someone supposedly trained as a negotiator, and his final act was too crazy. It would have been stronger had he started off as a nice guy on the surface, had his nastiness only appeared as the voyage went on, and had his instability appeared only after he was sidelined from negotiations on the planet.
I think he should have made some effort to entice the populace with ‘trinkets’, surely he would have some of the personal entertainment technology that he hoped to lure them with on the ship. He could have demonstrated their capabilities and the populous not been interested. That would be very powerful and would be incomprehensible to him. His shock and desperation at the base of his power being completely undermined by beings without desire would have, to some extent, driven him crazy.
However, even as it is, it is a good read and generally well done.