Group Read 27: The Big Book of Science Fiction
Story #44 of 107: “Darkness” by André Carneiro
The VanderMeers made my reading expectations too high when they quoted A. E. van Vogt saying that “Darkness” by André Carneiro was one of the greatest science fiction stories ever written. It was good, very good indeed, but not great. Also, they misled me by saying it was a “depiction of a world where people are suddenly blind.” It is a story about everyone not being able to see, but they do not go blind. I read the story twice trying to discern exactly what happens and the best I can tell, light stopped working. The people could still see, but light from the sun slowly dimished, as did light from flashlights, matches, stoves, fires, etc. The world is thrown into darkness.
This is a disaster story with its usual plot arc. A man, Waldas comes home and begins saving water and gathering foodstuffs when he realizes that all sources of light are beginning to fade. Finally, when no one can see anything, people outside his apartment begin yelling for help. Waldas decides to share his resources with his neighbors with children but ignores all other pleas from other apartments and outside on the street. Eventually, Waldas realizes he must go out and search for food and plans to steal it from a nearby market, but when he gets there finds the shelves empty. On his way home be becomes lost and his finally rescued by a blind person, Vasco. Vasco is already skilled at getting around the city and takes Waldas back to the Institute for the Blind. Members there are helping a few people, and agree to help Waldas and his adopted family in exchange for water Waldas had saved in his bathtub. They bring back the water and family and live at the Institute until they realize the food is running out. The group then decides to go to a farm owned by the Institute, and the blind people lead the non-seeing people out of town. Eighteen days later light begins to seep out of light sources again, within a day or two, light returns to normal. Waldas returns to town to see how people have survived and found more people living than he assumed.
Near the end, we are told:
But, as their eager eyes took in every color, shade, and movement, they gave little thought to the mysterious magnitude of their universe, and even less to the plight of their brothers, their saviors, who still walked in darkness.
What is Carneiro telling us? Is he saying people are blind to the wonders of reality, even after they’ve been given a great object lesson? Is he saying people just adapt to any situation without wondering about the why of things? Maybe I’m taking this story too much for granted like Waldas and the people of his world took light for granted. Maybe I’ll appreciate this story more in the future.
James Wallace Harris, 11/15/21