Dark Universe – Daniel F Galouye (1961)
‘The survivors live deep underground, as far from the Original World as possible. It’s true that some of the hot springs that sustain life are running dry, and they are plagued by the huge and vicious soubats and subject to sudden raids from other tribes. But they are safe from the Twin Devils, Strontium and Cobalt, and protected from the ultimate evil, Radiation. Then something strange and frightening begins: terrible monsters, who bring with them a screaming silence, are seen and people are disappearing. Jared Fenton is a young man who knows that to find out what’s going on he must question the orthodoxies of his faith and defy the law. He must discover the nature of Darkness itself…’
Blurb from the 2000 Gollancz SF Collectors Edition
Jared Fenton is, we soon discover, one of a community which lives in total darkness. Through mutation and adaptation these humans have become adept at ‘seeing’ or rather hearing their surroundings through a system of echo-location. Until now the community has thrived, reverting to a tribal hierarchical system, incorporating a religion based around the concepts of Light and Darkness, and involving the Demon Gods Strontium, Cobalt and Hydrogen.
Recently however, the underground springs which support their manna trees are failing and strange creatures from beyond the borders of their territory appear and begin to kidnap the tribespeople.
It’s a Classic Myth Structure. Our Hero is forced by circumstance to leave his own land, suffer trials and overcome adversities before returning. However, this is no formulaic genre clone. It’s a highly readable and intelligent exercise in the creation of a society.
Another tribe, the Vizzers, lack the talent for judging their surroundings by reflected sound, but can see in infrared.
Ultimately we discover that Jared and the other Survivors (as the tribe calls itself) are indeed the descendants of a group of survivors locked into a self-sufficient nuclear bunker system.
In terms of context it fits the pattern of the times reflecting public paranoia about the Cold War and the consequences of atomic conflict but also strangely – as with other works of the time – permits the idea of the positive effects of human mutation; in this case the development of abilities such as telepathy and infrared vision.
Galouye has crafted an interesting novel in which he portrays not only Jared’s passage into Manhood but into the Light and there is a poignant moment when Jared longs for the familiarity of his home in the Darkness, but realises that he can never go back now that he has experienced Light.
This is a classic example of what is often termed a Pocket Universe, a society living within certain boundaries and labouring under a misconception as to what (if anything) lies beyond the perimeter. Here it could be taken as a metaphor for the boundary between child- and adulthood, moving from the restrictive but safe boundaries of one’s parents into the open world, and unable to return to the darkness of the womb.
It’s a minor classic and highly recommended.