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Nightfall is a short story turned into a novel by the master of Science fiction writing Isaac Asimov, the expanded novel was co-authored by another legend in the field in Robert Silverberg.
Isaac Asimov was a Russian dissident living in America who came over as a refugee in the late 1920's, he worked as a scientist and in the late thirties started publishing novel's about robots and wrote the brilliant Foundation trilogy. After the war he kept writing about space and exploration, his novel's are more about how humans view themselves then how they view the exploration of the cosmos. His novel's on robotics have become established as the guiding lights in the real scientific field and he can be considered one of the great sci-fi writers.
Nightfall as a story in either its long or short form is disarmingly simple, the novel looks at human panic and its tendency in times of panic to lash out and destroy itself.
Nightfall tells a simple tale of what happens on a planet with six suns, the planet is therefore always in some kind of sunlight and the concept of darkness unknown. The novel takes us through the discovery of the fact that every 2500 years civilisation destroys itself; the data is accumulated in a dispassionate way and the reason for the destruction unclear. However, it soon becomes clear that every 2500, all six suns line up in a line and then for one and only one night only the planets suns are eclipsed by the planets moon leading to total darkness.
This is of course the nightfall of the title, and the reason for the collapse of the civilisations every 2500 years. I don't think I'm giving anything away as the blurb on the back of the novel details the point that what would happen on a world without darkness if night did fall every 2500 years?
The result is of course chaos and the society though forewarned still implodes, not so much because of the darkness but because of the sight of the stars in the galaxy.
This is a novel in which the reader should perhaps suspend certain truths, first the obvious truth over a planet with 6 suns and nightfall every few thousand years. The second is that this time civilisation manages to get to a state of technology which can detect the upcoming problem, even though every 2500 years civilisation ahs to start again? Why this time is this civilisation more advanced than previously?
This is one of Asimov's best short stories; it plays on the concept of the power of human beings for self-destruction and the need to feel safe and secure. Take these two points away and then civilisation soon disintegrates and at the end very little is required for this panic to set in.
This is a brilliant novel by a great sci-fi writer and perhaps shows that good sci-fi writing is more than spaceships and asteroids and in truth is an exploration of the human psyche rather than an exploration of the universe.
This is one of Asimov's best ever tales, and is based upon a short story he wrote by the same name. That short story was to be one of the most famous and influential short stories of the genre for all time, actually being named as the best science fiction short story ever written. The original short story was written in 1941, and appeared in the September issue of Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction magazine.We have more than just that to thank Campbell for, however, as the story was conceived after Campbell quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson to Asimov one day. The quote was, " If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God! "
Asimov's response was very apt. What we get in the short story (and the expanded novel version), is a tale of a world that is ringed by multiple suns, so that at no time is it ever in natural darkness. Various professionals from Saro University come across anomalies that give them pause however. We have Sheerin501, a psychologist, who studies the effects being plunged into darkness has on his subjects, Beenay the astronomer who discovers irregularities in orbit of one of their heavenly bodies, and Siferra89, an archaeologist puzzled by the obvious cycle of utter destruction followed by rebuilding to higher technological standards in an ancient city ruin. It becomes apparent that a religious sect may hold the secret, for they tell of a time of darkness that falls roughly every 2,000 years and that destroys the world. Saros University ponders all this, and calls back its best minds, as they realise in horror that the heavenly anomaly will cast utter darkness upon the world as it causes a solar eclipse, and unleash psychological horror. Then, day breaks and the light returns so the full extent of the falling of the night is revealed....
The storyline is actually three intertwined stories that all dovetail into one another, dealing with each of the professors and their discoveries. We get good characterisation, and the first part of the book makes an excellent read. BUT...and I say but.....the second half of the novel dealing with the daybreak suffers a bit. Not that it is not enjoyable, or poor quality, but rather it suffers from what I call collaboratoritis. That is, you can tell this is where Silverberg stepped in, as the change of style from Asimov's uncluttered style changes, and the flow is not nearly so smooth. Looking at it critically, I can tell you that it is obvious a visitor to Asimov's created world wrote it, and while he can imagine it quite well, he did not make it nor could he mould it quite so well. Having said all that, it is a worthy treatment to that original short story, though I do think the original outstrips it in overall quality. The short story is iconic and straddles perfection; the novel is merely a great story.
It is a book that you should make time to read, though as the story is gripping and you will no doubt find as I did, that yet again Asimov has made it near impossible to put down. By its subject, be warned it is a bit bleak, so not one to read when feeling particularly down as this is not one to uplift you with rip roaring feel good space swashbuckling. It is thoughtful, idea driven science fiction, in the trademark Asimov style (with a bit of Silverberg meddling at the end), and if you have access to it, not a bad read. I would advise reading the much superior short story, which is available in various anthologies as well as online, before reading this expanded version, as otherwise, you will miss out on one of the most important science fiction literary works of all time.
An expanded version of Asimov's short story, Nightfall, reveals a world on the brink of chaos, torn between religious fanaticism and scientific denial and faced with the end of civilization.