- Nightfall (Asimov short story and novel)
Nightfall 1990 edition
Author(s) Isaac Asimov
Country United States Language English Genre(s) Science fiction Publication date 1990 Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) Pages 352 ISBN 978-0553290998 OCLC Number 24434629
"Nightfall" is a 1941 science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov about the coming of darkness to the people of a planet ordinarily illuminated at all times on all sides. It was adapted into a novel with Robert Silverberg in 1990. The short story has been included into 48 anthologies, and has appeared in six collections of Asimov's stories. The Science Fiction Writers of America voted "Nightfall" the best science fiction short story written prior to the 1965 establishment of the Nebula Awards, in 1968, and included it in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.
The short story was published in the September 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine under editor John W. Campbell. It was the 32nd story by Asimov, written while he was working in his father's candy store and studying at Columbia University. According to Asimov's autobiography, Campbell asked Asimov to write the story after discussing with him a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
- 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 which had been shown!
Campbell's opinion to the contrary was: "I think men would go mad."
The fictional planet Lagash (Kalgash in the novel adaptation) is located in a stellar system containing six suns (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta are the only ones named in the short story; Onos, Dovim, Trey, Patru, Tano, and Sitha in the novel), which keep the whole planet continuously illuminated; total darkness is unknown, and as a result so are stars outside the solar system.
A group of scientists from Saro University begins to make a series of related discoveries: Sheerin 501, a psychologist, researches the effects of prolonged exposure to darkness, Siferra 89, an archaeologist, finds evidence of multiple cyclical collapses of civilization regularly occurring approximately every two thousand years, and Beenay 25 is an astronomer who discovered irregularities in the orbit of Lagash around its primary sun Onos. Beenay takes his findings to his superior at the university, Athor, who formulated the Theory of Universal Gravitation (the in-story discussion of same making light of an article once written about Einstein's Theory of Relativity, referencing the false notion that "only twelve men" could understand it). This forces the astronomers at Saro University to attempt to find an answer to what is causing this anomaly. Eventually it is discovered that the only thing that could be causing the deviation is an astronomical body that orbits Lagash.
Beenay, through his friend Theremon 762 (a reporter), has learned some of the beliefs of the group known as the Cult ("Apostles of Flame" in the novel). They believe the world would be destroyed in a darkness with the appearance of stars that unleash a torrent of fire. Beenay combines what he has learned about the repetitive collapses at the digsite, and the new theory with the potential of eclipses and concludes that once every 2049 years the one sun visible is eclipsed, resulting in a brief 'night'.
Since the current population of Lagash has never experienced universal darkness, the scientists conclude that the darkness itself would traumatize the people and that the inhabitants of the planet would need to prepare accordingly. When nightfall occurs, however, the scientists (who have prepared themselves for darkness) and the rest of the planet are most surprised by the sight of previously-invisible stars outside the six-star system filling the sky. The short story did not cover what happens after that, but in the novel and X Minus One program, civil disorder breaks out; cities are destroyed in massive fires and civilization collapses, with the ashes of the fallen civilization and the competing groups trying to seize control.
The six star system of Kalgash is complicated. In the novel, Onos is the primary sun of Kalgash and is located 10 light-minutes away, similar to the distance from Earth to our Sun. The only other distance given is that Tano and Sitha (a binary star system) is located about eleven times as far away as Onos is.
- Onos - Yellow dwarf - Similar to the Sun
- Dovim - Red dwarf
- Trey and Patru - Class A or F Main Sequence Stars, described as "white" - Binary Star System
- Tano and Sitha - Class A, B or O Main Sequence Stars, described as "blue" - Binary Star System
In the book, Thargola's Sword is a philosophy that dictates what one should do when faced with a series of hypotheses. The hypothesis that is the most complex is stricken and considered too complicated for consideration. This is a thinly veiled reference to Occam's Razor.
Allusions and references from other works
Asimov collaborated with author Robert Silverberg on a novel-length revision of the original story, in 1990. The novel significantly expanded upon and updated the original premise.
Dean McLaughlin's novel Dawn (serialized in the April–July 1981 issues of Analog magazine and republished in book form 25 years later as ISBN 978-1594143502) had been in several ways an answer to Asimov's short story. It posited a similar society on a similar planet surrounded by similarly named stars. But, as its title suggested, Dawn was a more optimistic story, wherein society advanced rather than collapsed. McLaughlin paid homage to Asimov by naming the protagonist "Isak" and naming another character "Lagash" (the name of the planet in "Nightfall.") George Alec Effinger wrote a spoof of Nightfall involving his Maureen Birnbaum character. The story, "Maureen Birnbaum After Dark", appeared in both Foundation's Friends and Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson.
In 2010, the journal Nature published a short story by Eric James Stone called The Greatest Science-Fiction Story Ever Written, which referred to Nightfall.
Adaptations in other media
In the 1950s, the story was adapted on radio programs Dimension X and X Minus One.
In 1976, Analog Records presented "Nightfall" on a 33 1/3 rpm vinyl record, produced by James Cutting and recorded at American Learning Center. After the story, it includes a dialog between Isaac Asimov and Ben Bova.
In 1988, a low-budget movie was produced based upon the story. The movie was shot on location at the Arcosanti Project, using the resident community members as background actors. Another film version was made in 2000.
In 2000, the movie Pitch Black borrows the concept of a world that spends years in perpetual daylight. An indigenous predatory life form makes itself known which is dependent on the 22 year cycle of darkness.
In April 2007, the story was the 100th episode of Escape Pod, a science fiction podcast.
- ^ Stone, Eric James (October 28, 2010). "The greatest science-fiction story ever written". Nature 467: 1146. doi:10.1038/4671146a. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v467/n7319/full/4671146a.html. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
- ^ Nightfall (1988) at the Internet Movie Database
- ^ Nightfall (2000) at the Internet Movie Database
- Audio review and discussion of Nightfall at The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast
- John Jenkins's "spoiler-laden reviews" of the short story and the novel
- Emerson's essay from which the quote above comes: Nature. In "The Early Asimov: Book Two", p. 64, Asimov laments that he was not able to find the quotation.
- Nightfall - Read by Stephen Eley on the 100th episode of Escape Pod.
- American novels
- 1941 short stories
- 1990 novels
- Post-apocalyptic short stories
- Short stories by Isaac Asimov
- Science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov
- Novels by Robert Silverberg
- Literary collaborations
- Works originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact
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