4.25/5 (Very Good)
Nominated Hugo Award (1962) — narrowly lost to Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land
What an unusual read. I picked up a copy before heading off to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (the longest cave system in the world), read twenty pages, and decided to wait until after the cave tour.
Plot Summary (some spoilers)
Galouye’s world is quite disturbing — mankind first retreated after a nuclear fallout to what is called the Original World, an underground upper level which possessed artificial light sources. Then after a period of time, humanity descended deeper underground altogether losing the ability to create light. Instead, the people developed various skills (aided, perhaps implausibly by mutations from radiation) including the heightened ability to hear — the sound waves produced by clicking stones enable Jared and his people navigate the cave passages. The society they have formed deep underground away from the light clusters around hot springs that are mysteriously going dry.
Jared Fenton has nagging questions about the concepts of Light and Darkness which have become enshrouded with religions connotations (and misconceptions). His journey for answers is delayed by his society’s desire for him to marry — until a series of events occur which lead him into contact with the Zivvers. The Zivvers are also humans who have heightened sense of vision in that they are able to see the infra-red spectrum (and thus, poor hearing and olfactory senses). They are ostracized from the other humans who believe them to be tainted. With the aid of Della, he uncovers the mysteries of his world.
Daniel F. Galouye had previously published rather run of the mill pulp action sci-fi until this novel — his very first. He was correctly rewarded with a Hugo nomination. Although lacking in characterization, his novel rests on the ingenuity of his world — and more aptly, on the skill which Galouye formulates the society which has developed underground. Galouye creates mannerisms and phrases (all seeing metaphors and expressions have been altered to reflect the COMPLETE absence of light), the culture (the Ten Touches of Familiarization which allows newly met individuals to briefly touch another to ascertain their physical form and features), the religion, the way of life….
The downside of the novel is its rather predictable plot (still quite unusual), thin characterization, and the rambling nature of the narrative in the last third (running from various peoples, hiding here, running some more, accidentally discovering this or that, and hiding there). However, the high concepts of his world and the reintroduction of light is absolutely fascinating and transfixing.
Daniel F. Galouye’s work has often been described as a lost classic and I’m inclined to agree. His world building skills are top notch. Along with Walter Miller, Jr’s masterful Canticle for Leibowitz, Dark Universe ranks among the best post-apocalyptical books from the late 50s and early 60s.
A truly rewarding sci-fi take on Plato’s cave…
Find a copy — sadly, they tend to be quite scarce/expensive…