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Eden
Ken Wisman
Authorhouse paperback $14.95

review by Patrick Hudson

Ken Wisman opens Eden with several pages of explanation of the novel's origins in a series of psychedelic drug trips. He explains that between 1998 and 2000 he took 40 trips using an unnamed psychedelic drug, and the resulting insights led to him to write this novel of science and philosophy. The story is framed by his descriptions of some of the trips and the philosophical speculations that these experiences inspired.

This introduction made my heart sink. I'm no puritan on the matter of recreational drugs - au contraire - and, in fact, it's my own experiences that made me suspicious: I've pulled one too many an all-nighter with ranting acid heads to feel anything but dread at the prospect of an entire novel from one. That said, it would be wrong to dismiss Wisman as an addled hippy with access to a word processor; he is widely published in the small press and has had stories in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone and Tomorrow SF.

The resulting novel is more coherent than you might expect. Calif d'Alsace is a wealthy interstellar magnate who finances a huge team of artists and scientists to create a living eco-system without predators or conflict on a world devoid of life: in his new Eden, the lion will lie down with the lamb. His desire to create new life stems the futuristic melding of mysticism and science called Ankh, which sees humanity as an embodiment of the Universe's will to create life. He whisks his team of creators off to a distant corner of the galaxy where they get to work on their new creatures, and things proceed to go merrily wrong.

Wisman is strong on the process of creating the bizarre inhabitants of Eden, and the chimeras he describes are at once striking and believable. Later in the novel, where various created creatures (inevitably) clash he conjures scenes of near apocalyptic hellishness. The science is well researched and convincing, even if there is a little bit of hand waving here and there.

At the story heart is Alepha, a young artist from the conservative world of Desert, who has a prodigious gift for creative imagining, but a dark secret. Her presence on Eden sees romantic jealousy fuel still-smouldering arguments from the time of conflict known as the Religious Wars, and it is her final actions that sees Calif's dream come true. Obviously, she is intended to be a powerful figure; unfortunately she's a bit wet to really get behind, and spends a lot of time swooning, but she carries the plot efficiently from A to B.

There are good ideas here, and the conflict that Wisman establishes is intriguing at first, but the fiction suffers from being a vehicle for Wisman's ideas. It's not that his ideas are bad - although the central premise of the 'will to live' will have followers of Richard Dawkins gritting their teeth - but that they are not startlingly original, for all the exotic nature of their inspiration. Indeed, it's my experience that strong drugs can give trivial events or objects a deep emotional resonance that can linger for days afterward and I was left wondering if Wisman hadn't fallen for a pipe dream?

The inclusion of interludes wherein he explains his ideas and how they came to him disrupt the flow of the plot, and his anecdotes often fail to engage. A drug trip is something to be experienced, and there is a limit to how much of the emotional content of these states can be communicated: I've read a lot of drug literature in my time and few have the ability of, say, a William S. Burroughs or a Hunter S. Thompson to express the complex matrix of sensations and emotions that drugs engender.

This single mindedness leads him to neglect the non-allegorical elements of Eden. Aside from Alepha, the other characters hold little more than narrative interest, being in place to ensure that Alepha travels the path of the plot. Alepha interviews the support cast in a series of extracts from her journal, providing each an opportunity to parrot out the competing philosophical positions that they rather stiffly represent. The plot itself doesn't hold much in the way of surprises and leads up to one of the hoariest of SF clichés, a staple of the 'Don't ...' lists from every story writing manual and submission guideline. To be fair, though, Wisman gives it an interesting twist, and it is one point where his philosophical and fictional worlds really come together.

For all its faults, Eden is a short novel that doesn't overstay its welcome and Wisman is a genial guest. If his story lacks some of the inspirational elements he strives for, it still has moments of vivid beauty and an appealingly positive message.
Eden by Ken Wisman

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