The novel “Dark Universe” by Daniel F. Galouye was published for the first time in 1961.
Jared Fenton is one of the survivors who live in caves relying above all on their hearing but also on their sense of smell and touch. His tribe lives on despite the threats of various creatures such as giant bats and other groups of humans, above all the Zivvers, who are very dangerous due to their extraordinary abilities.
Jared would like to understand the nature of Light and Darkness but his search beyond the barrier that divides the caves from the Original World gets him into trouble. The water sources that allow the survival of his tribe seem to run out one after the other and Jared is accused of having brought upon them a punishment from Light. To make things worse, he’s accused of being a Zivver in cahoots with the Radiation and the strange, new monsters sent by the Twin Devils Cobalt and Strontium.
Postapocaliptic stories were already a classic when the first atomic bombs were used and soon many postatomic stories started being published. “Dark Universe” deals with this subject in an original way by telling the story of the descendants of a group of survivors of a nuclear war and especially Jared Fenton.
Jared’s tribe lives in caves in the darkness and humans have adapted to that environment over generations. Among the animals they have to fight there are bats but in some ways humans have become like them, meaning that they especially use a sort of ecosonar system to orient the dark. However, there’s another group of humans called Zivvers who have superior skills because they can perceive other humans even without hearing them and for this reason they are particularly dangerous.
The most interesting part of “Dark Universe” is the culture that has developed due to the profound influence of the environment and the distorted memory of the Original World. From the beginning of the novel, the reader gets immersed in those people’s lifestyle, which Daniel F. Galouye describes in details. The language is the mirror of their culture and the author has developed this element in an extraordinary way.
In current languages, there are many references to seeing, also figuratively, in the survivors’ language they have been replaced by references to hearing. In fact, they have forgotten everything that’s connected to the eyes and for them Light and Darkness have become religious concepts disconnected from their true meaning.
The distorted memories of nuclear war have also become part of a strange religion and the language. Radiation is pure evil and the various radioactive elements are considered devils. The giant bats and the Zivvers are considered creatures possessed by the Twin Demons Cobalt and Strontium.
Even Jared, with all his doubts about his people’s religion, struggles to get rid of the many preconceptions he’as been taught since his birth. He wants to discover the true nature of Light and the Darkness but the objective facts available to him are too few to really succeed to overcome the religious beliefs developed over generations. When new events threaten the survival of his tribe, Jared still tries to interpret them at least in part according to those beliefs.
“Dark Universe” is basically Jared’s quest in the search for the truth. For this reason, Jared is by far the most developed character in the novel, also because it has a standard length for the era in which it was written. Daniel F. Galouye focused a lot on an absolute protagonist so this is basically his story. There good thing is that the pace is high, on the other hand the end has some weak elements. “Dark Universe” is the kind of novel where the journey is far more important than the destination.
While not perfect, “Dark Universe” is really a fascinating full immersion in a particular environment and a unique culture. For this reason, I found it overall very good and I recommend reading it.