What is Garden of Eden?
I have had Garden of Eden, a short young-adult science-fiction novel, sitting on my hard drive since 2014, untouched. It was the first National Novel Writing Month piece I completed.
I have decided to serialise it on this blog, posting a chapter a week to give me an incentive to revisit it and edit it with fresh eyes.
I wrote it partly as an experiment – could an interesting story be written about what is ultimately a utopian world? It was in this part inspired by the animated science-fiction series Aria, but equally by the aesthetics and countercultural, extreme-sports trappings of Eureka Seven. I was not interested in writing another war story, or a massive-scale tale of humanity’s fate, but instead a story about people – very flawed people trying to do the best they could. It seems presumptuous to cite Steinbeck in a discussion of a young-adult story about futuristic motor-racing but there is something, I think, of a desire to emulate Cannery Row in this, too.
Garden of Eden is set in the far future, in a world where society is able to live a relaxed, peaceful life. I wanted to write about families, and friendships, and the weight of expectation that people might face. At the same time, I wanted to write something comfortable and relatable despite its high-tech, alien setting. I hope I succeeded.
Garden of Eden
Side A: Grey Cliff
Chapter One: Something To Do
At the top of the hill, the point where it curved into a gently rounded peak before arcing in slow terraces down, a slab of polished white stone lay reclined against the blue sky. The pillar leaned upwards from a forked base – a straight foundation that continued in the same lazy angle, and a more gently sloped offshoot that looped round in the beginnings of a wide spiral before tapering off to form a round bench circling a paved area. Normally, this place would be packed with people, but it was early in the morning and no-one had yet emerged. There was only the almost-silence of awakening life, the morning chorus of nature and the faint sounds of music from an exercise class somewhere else in the park, and the sun, still at the start of its upward path towards noon, was gently warming the gleaming surface of the pillar. Its sides were carved in geometric designs which had been decorated with shining chrome and coloured glass, throwing vivid patterns down on the white paving slabs that later in the day children would use as pitch markings for their games.
Nestled in the place where the two branches of the pillar merged, a slight figure was stretched out, reading a magazine off the screen of his pocket reader. The article finished, he flicked at the text and it was replaced by a parade of images showing his back-collection of things to read – magazines, comics, books, a bright tapestry of colourful covers. With another flick of the device, the screen went dark and he clipped it to his belt, laying back down with an arm outstretched into the sky describing lazy arcs in a childish imitation of an aeroplane. One movement clearly intrigued him, as he tried it again and again, a sharp turn into a sudden drop with wind swirling cold between his fingers. Suddenly he pulled the reader from its clip again and re-opened the article he had been reading. He kept going over a single page and picture, a photograph of a rocky valley crested by a natural bridge, a water-etched arch of grey stone over a rushing waterfall. Tapping on the picture brought up a number more, and he studied each in turn, trying to build up a complete picture of the scene. After some time of staring at the pictures, he pulled himself upright and half-walked, half-slid down the sloped face of the pillar. People were beginning to enter the park now, the first few families taking morning strolls, and he studiously avoided them, deep in thought with headphones on, listening to the same short EP over and again.
Each track was given full attention with each iteration. Every bar carefully listened to despite being by now known by heart. Only this time, he was counting the beats with a new fervour. One, two, three then it drops. The article he had been reading had recommended this. Use music to fix timings. Anything to learn the secrets of that cliff, to know how to take the turn at speed without hitting the bridge. He’d picked that record because it had been playing the last time he’d been at the cliff.
He was walking through the park down the main footpath, a wide, pastel-patterned, flagstone-paved ribbon curving gently through terraces of windfarms disguised as pieces of art, their vanes standing vertically and trailing ribbons coated in tiny flecks of metal which cast crazed reflections. The turbines stood as manmade rivals to the carefully pruned trees, not a branch out of place, the resulting forest eerily precise. Lost in thought, he almost missed the van waiting at the bottom of the hill in a wide, mostly-empty car park. Its back doors were open, and two young men were reclined on a rough pile of instrument cases and other accrued and discarded objects that could only have belonged to a band who had once been on tour and never tidied up afterwards. From somewhere in the pile of junk, they had found a small fridge and filled it, in a move that had been intended to look cool but ended up looking simply practical, with bottles of various drinks.
“Zeno! We’ve been looking for you! I’d offer you a beer but, well…” The sound of someone’s voice cut over the music, and he was half-tempted to turn it up to drown the interruption out until he realised who it was.
“Not for breakfast. Any news?” He pulled off the headphones, letting them rest round his neck, and climbed into the van, grabbing a bottle from the fridge. With a sharp tap he dislodged the marble in the neck and – carefully, to stop it simply rolling back to block the top – took a long drink. “Haven’t tried this one before, where’d you find it?”
“There’s a new shop, they give you half back if you keep the bottles. It’s down by the machine shop, thought we’d drop by there and see how Harp’s doing then get a case of this for the studio.”
“So what were you doing up on the pillar this morning? I mean I know you like to take the morning air every day, but you’ve been hanging around the pillar an awful lot.”
“Reading some back issues of Skyway. And listening to that Lazy Megane EP.”
“Couldn’t you, you know, read them in the studio? Xan’s been complaining non-stop about how nobody’s around to make him breakfast when he’s got a hangover.”
“Xan can make his own breakfast, like normal.”
“It’s worse than that, Zeno. Mio made breakfast.” The three men laughed at the thought of Xan being presented with the results. “She can cook, for sure. But she doesn’t know when to stop. There’s cold sausages back at the Tree. Lots of them.”
“Restocking, yes. Just got to grab this list of stuff for Xan after-”
“Then shall we move? If Harp’s done we can take the Messiah up this afternoon. I’ve had an idea.”
The oldest of the three men climbed over the stacks of detritus and launched himself into the driver’s seat of the van, wrenching at the ignition key until it began to move. The others stayed in the back, hanging on to boxes for support as it lurched around, the fridge held shut with an old belt. Zeno had taken his music player and plugged it into the van’s sound system, and finally switched the record over. Relaxed, swung cymbals and guitars pinged out, with a melodic percussion line fading in and out over the top. When the main melody entered the mix, played on a harmonica, it accompanied a relaxed singer lazily running through long musical phrases apparently without pausing for breath.
Outside the cluttered back of the minivan, the sun continued to shine uninterrupted in a powder-blue sky, beating down on a road which described a gentle snake from the shallow slopes of the hill into a low valley with a town nestled within. The pillar, by now a distant break in the perfectly curved summit, still shone like a gleaming beacon sticking out over the hilltop, glinting blindingly bright as the sun caught its engraved sides.