Book Review: Dark Universe, Daniel F. Galouye (1961)

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.

My Thoughts

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…

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16 thoughts on “Book Review: Dark Universe, Daniel F. Galouye (1961)

  1. I just have to say, it’s great perusing through these old book covers. Although many of the new covers are technically awesome (and are very well done, I might add), there’s a spirit to these old ones that I really like. Quite often the covers had little or nothing to do with the actual story, but they are still classic paintings. For me, the sf covers in particular were enticing, and made me wish I could hop a space ship and take a quick sight-seeing tour to those places, such as happened in the old serials from the Thirties and Forties. I believe the imagination these artists employed told as much about the artist as the book did about the writer. Mostly, though, they seem to evoke a nostalgia for classic sf and the sense of wonder I used to feel every time I managed to get a new used book to read. Thanks for a great blog.

    • Thanks for the kind comments!

      Yes, I love old sci-fi covers. Here’s a great site for covers — and where I get all my pictures!

      Here’s a blog you might enjoy — he explores covers of lesser known works.

      I primarily review lesser known sci-fi books from the late 50s, 60s, and occasionally the 80s. I really think fans of the genre need to know of people like Galouye, Piserchia, Barrington J. Bayley — competent, inventive, and fascinating writers (even if their work isn’t considered masterful).

      Thanks for stopping by! Come back!

      • I’ll have to try and find a copy of this, especially if it was on the list with Stranger. One of the other things I was gonna mention in my previous comment and forgot was their titles. I’m horrible at titles, so I admire a good one, and they had them back then! Harlan Ellison is probably one of my favorites, with titles like The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World and I Have no Mouth, and I must Scream. Philip K. Dick had some good ones too. like Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.

        And thanks for the links. I’m sure I’ll get some good hours out of them. Do you know about Fantastic Fiction? It’s at Great database covering all genres and it has cover pictures as well.

  2. I’ve not read any Harlan Ellison — but yes, that has to be one of the best titles of all.. I love PKD — I’ve read perhaps 20 or so of his novels, but I haven’t read Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said — supposedly not only one of the better titles but one of his better works…

  3. Ignoring the rest of your review until I write my own…

    But I just finished Dark Universe and googled “Dark Universe Galouye Plato” and here you are! I loved this book! I was looking to see if there really was a connection with Plato and I wasn’t just grasping in the dark. (heh.) I’ve had this book for nearly a year and I’m annoyed that I just got around to reading it.

    • Hell Gideon, I read your review! I am glad you also thought it was wonderful read. The other stuff I have read of his really does not resonate in the same way. Maybe you’ll have more luck.

    • Hello, thanks for stopping by! I have a soft spot for Bill Botten’s art.

      I apologize for the lower quality of the review — this was from more than a decade ago when I was in my early 20s and I had read far less SF…

      Have you read any other works by Galouye that you enjoyed?

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