Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review of Dark Universe by Daniel Galouye

With settings a toe or foot beyond the real world, science fiction is a literature which must often re-balance the elements of story in order to make room for itself. Character depth and rich verisimilitude the usual sacrificial offerings, science fiction can come across as a simplistic literature as a result. Golden Age sf is, indeed, so basic as to be fairy tale-ish. But in other cases, the simplicity can become something more; the author takes advantage of the possibilities inherent to their creation to assign additional levels of significance to its humble surface elements. Daniel Galouye’s Dark Universe (1961), as mythopoeic as the story is at heart, is one such novel. And did I mention setting?

Jared is one of the most daring members of his underground group of survivors. Enjoying his time alone in the pitch black caves and caverns they call home, he is experienced in echo reading and killing soo-bats. Click-stones constantly in hand sounding the way ahead, he tells no one that his real quest in life is not mere survival, but also to find light and darkness—concepts his group discuss only in religious tones. Believing demons of radiation haunt the under and overworld, the elders chastise Jared upon discovering the extent of his explorations, warning him of inhuman monsters in the depths and the dangers of another group of mutant humans called zivvers roaming the caverns. But Jared’s biggest problem may be the social pressure to unify. A girl named Della proposed for him, Jared initially feels the relationship will be unhelpful, a burden hindering his quest. That is, until he discovers more to Della than meets the ear.


The metaphor of Dark Universe is anything but hidden. But through living in the dark and searching for light, Galouye develops his Platonic ideal (wink wink) in consistent, mysterious fashion. The storyline is never clouded with details of worldbuilding, which allows the symbolism to complement storyline, proportionally. A tight bond formed, the reader is perpetually experiencing Dark Universe from two perspectives.

Nearly anyone can predict the ending of Dark Universe in some general sense. But it’s in plot movement Galouye maintains interest, not to mention in Jared’s surprise at what form light actually takes when he finds it; the storyline is entirely unpredictable. The halfway point forms the end of most novel arcs, meaning that every step Jared takes beyond is ambiguous. Sure, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but what is its source, and what does it mean are questions the reader must read to find out.

In the end, Dark Universe is a straight-forward story built on a scant frame, but a frame that serves a dual purpose, thereby strengthening impact. About a young man trying to find enlightenment in the dark, his quest for light is both real and metaphorical, and thus a stand in for a lot of potential meaning. Religion to belief in general, Galouye never openly states an agenda, instead choosing to leave his metaphor open ended. Setting perhaps the strongest aspect of the novel, Dark Universe does not shake the verisimilitude blues so common to science fiction, but like Brian Aldiss’ Non-Stop it leaves images etched in the reader’s mind long after the last page is turned. And that, may be its greatest success.

9 comments:

  1. Great review. I've been kind of afraid you wouldn't like this novel, being that it is rather simplistic and loud (ha), even for an allegory, but I think you're right that its simplicity leaves room for something more. Too much dressing and it wouldn't work quite as well. (Plato wasn't exactly about plenitude, either.)

    Funny that you mention Golden Age SF because even though this is a 1961 novel, I think of it as one of my favorite sf novels from the fifties. :-P

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    1. I hear what you're saying about Dark Universe feeling like an offering from an earlier year. For a debut novel, I guess he didn't have too many choices. Either go for broke and get lucky, or try to inject a little something fresh into tried and true material... If you haven't already read Galouye's Simulacron-3, give it a whirl. It's the intelligent version of the Matrix (without the pseudo-Christ allegory crap).

      Enjoy your Thanksgiving and whatever pleasure read(s) you've identified for this year's holiday!

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  2. Hi

    Glad you enjoyed this novel. I liked the mythic aspect of the novel as presented by the folklore that Jared's group uses to build their worldview. I agree that the strength of the work is that Galouye doesn't go overboard by getting too wrapped up in world building or explanation. Instead he moves the story along while providing sufficient detail and mystery that the reader is intrigued and eager to see what comes next. I enjoyed it enough to read a number of his other works. This has been the best so far but I have been happy with the others as well.

    Guy

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    1. Thanks, Guy. I've read only a a few other works by Galouye, a couple of short stories and the novel Simulacron-3. I have to say I liked Simulacron-3 a little better than Dark Universe. Rather than playing with the idea of the enlightenment in genre form, he examines, rather closely, one of the ideas that arose from the enlightenment in more thought-provoking fashion. Like you, I liked the intrigue of Dark Universe, but in Simulacron-3 there is plot intrigue and ontological intrigue, a better combination I think.

      Are there any other of his novels you would recommend?

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  3. Hi

    I did like Simulation-3 and I enjoyed a A Scourge of Screamers which was quite different again from Dark Universe and Simulation-3. I found it a bit Fortean with lots of action and interesting plot elements. He seems to get a lot into fairly short novels.

    Regards
    Guy

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    1. I'll have to check it out, thanks!

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  4. I thought I would finally get around to read it this year, but of course I didn't--too many other books getting in between. But it has been sitting on my shelf for years and after your review it is definitely going to be on next year's pile. This year, I read Mordecai Roshwald's Level 7 instead, which kind of hails from the same corner.
    Klaas

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    1. Level 7 is one of those novels I hear occasionally about from quiet but distinct places around the web (i.e. non-mainstream). You recommend, yes?

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    2. I'm not sure I would recommend it per se. As a novel I think it failed, but as a warning -- its true purpose, I guess -- it works. It leaves you with a very bad feeling, as it should. But it's a quick read.
      Regards,
      Klaas

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