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Nightfall
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Book Discussions > Nightfall (short story) by Isaac Asimov

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message 1: by Jonathan, Reader of the fantastic (new)

Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) | 525 comments This is our January 2013 short story!


message 2: by J.D. (new)

J.D. Hallowell | 75 comments This story puts the idea that necessity is the mother of invention in a whole new light.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I read this ages ago and gave it a 4 stars though I'm not sure that the book is better than the short story. Like many shorts turned into novels it disappoints somewhat. Still, no harm going back to it especially on Asimov's birthday.


message 4: by JJ (new) - added it

JJ | 4 comments J.D. wrote: "This story puts the idea that necessity is the mother of invention in a whole new light."

I agree. I first read it in my tattered, dog eared and yellowed edition of Science Fiction Hall of Fame years ago. I saw it in the Library as a full length book. So I am going to give it a read. After reading the short story I always looked at campfires going out in a different light ;)

As an aside, Jonathon may want to use the 1970 Science Fiction Hall of Fame for picking future short stories. I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite as I have reread them all many times.


message 5: by Jonathan, Reader of the fantastic (new)

Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) | 525 comments JJ wrote: "J.D. wrote: "This story puts the idea that necessity is the mother of invention in a whole new light."

I agree. I first read it in my tattered, dog eared and yellowed edition of Science Fiction Ha..."


We nominate short stories and everything else.


message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 03, 2013 07:34PM) (new)

JJ wrote: "I first read it in my tattered, dog eared and yellowed edition of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame..."

I first read this short story in Nightfall and Other Stories. According to Wikipedia, Nightfall has appeared in 48 anthologies (so far.)
"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!"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson



message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

OK, last night I re-read Nightfall (Asimov's original short story, not the Silverberg novel.) And now for some random musings:

Science fiction stories set in the future or in alternate worlds always carry with them signs and assumptions of the times in which they were written, and "Nightfall" is no exception. Originally published 72 years ago in 1941 in the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction (what is now Analog Science Fiction and Fact). In 1941, World War II was being fought in Europe, Africa, and Asia (the United States entered the war at the end of the year.)

Also in 1941, science fiction (as well as science, industry, universities and government) were all almost entirely male-dominated. That manifests itself in this Asimov story as the total absence of female characters. On 1941 Earth or on Lagash, whether the surname is a number or not, it seems women just don't worry their pretty little heads about science, religion, or the end of the world. (But four years later Asimov would create robopsychologist Susan Calvin. In between, he got married; coincidence?)


message 8: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 07, 2013 04:42PM) (new)

Near the end of Nightfall (original short story), there is a moment where Asimov steps outside the context of the story and the people of Lagash, and on re-reading it now, the sentence brought me up short for a moment.

(view spoiler) the story's narrator steps out of the story's context to speak directly to us Earthlings about things the story's characters never heard of. (There's probably a term for this they teach in writing class. Something like breaking the fourth wall, but for literature rather than the stage.)

Whatever it's called, I found it jarring.


message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 10, 2013 04:39PM) (new)

It occurred to me (perhaps somewhat belatedly) that "Nightfall" is an early (perhaps the first) example of what has become a now-familiar trope of Eternal Cycle : The concept that all this has happened before and all this will happen again, a theme it shares with the more recent Wheel of Time and numerous other stories (Pern), Movies ("The Matrix"), TV shows ("Babylon 5"), and video games ("Mass Effect"). TVtropes doesn't list any literature employing the idea prior to "Nightfall" (the Buddhist Kalachakra predating all of it, naturally.)

So, perhaps we should credit Asimov with the first use of this in SF&F.

Hey, suppose the Mayans actually did know something about December 21, 2012, and we just missed their desperate attempt to pass on ancient wisdom to the next cycle as running out of room on the stone tablet. :) ?


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

In the short story "Nightfall", the planet Lagash has six suns. At one point, one of the scientists at Saro University engages in some idle speculation: what if there were other suns in the universe, too far away to be seen because of the brightness of the six? And what if around one of those suns there was a planet with only one sun? Wouldn't their recently discovered "Law of Gravitation" have been much easier to discover?

Asimov is being a wiseguy here, because clearly this speculation is far beyond the observational experience of any of these Lagashans. I think he's also being ironic, since without multiple planets to worry about, figuring out Universal Gravitation probably becomes harder. To a first-order approximation, the Earth is flat and the sun, the stars, and the planets all revolve around it. It's only when you look more closely that you realize Earth's surface is curved. And only when you measure the motion of the other planets that you start creating epi-cycles to account for their eccentricities. If it wasn't for the other five naked eye planets, we'd probably still be at the center of the universe.


message 11: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 14, 2013 08:48AM) (new)

Trivia: There was actually a movie made based on Nightfall, produced by the infamous Roger Corman back around 2000 (pitching it as a millennium disaster film of sorts.) (iMDB says it was direct to video, but I remember seeing it in a theater the night it opened; but far be it for me to disagree with The Internet.)

It was, sadly, awful. It kept the basic premise of the once in a 1000 year eclipse (harkening back to the original Emerson quote and tying it in to the millennium.) The heroine is a archaeologist and daughter of the chief astronomer (and a solution to the gender bias of the original story) who gets into a Romeo and Juliet relationship with the son of the Cult leader. Also, Cult members have impressive mental powers, and there are sand people in the desert and "darklings" living in caves, afraid of the light. Very low budget (did I mention Roger Corman?)

The same year also brought the movie Pitch Black, which also use the idea of rare darkness from an eclipse, though in that case it became the premise for a monster-based horror film (whose early working title was "Nightfall", BTW).


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm curious to hear from any of the people who've read the Robert Silverberg expansion novel Nightfall what they thought of that expansion?

I don't think very many expansion novels work out well (as opposed to fixup novels that combine multiple related short works into a single story.) Short science fiction is usually able to focus on a single concept, mood, or character for study, to the exclusion of extraneous detail. Expanding such a concept story into a full-length novel usually dilutes the strength of the concept, and most of the additions feel like padding. (Another example is Zelazny's The Dream Master, expanded from his award-winning short story, "He Who Shapes.")


message 13: by Steve (new)

Steve Haywood | 53 comments I'd like to read Nightfall, however should I be reading the original short story, or the long version co-written with Robert Silverberg? And if the original short story is better, can anyone tell me where I can get my hands on it - i.e. a decent anthology it is in? (Something available on Kindle would be ideal, so I don't have to wait for delivery, but may not be possible.


message 14: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 23, 2013 01:14PM) (new)

Hi, Steve.

I think I've already advocated for the short story over the novel. The two are really different forms: a short story can concentrate on a single concept (which is particular useful in science fiction), character, setting, or event, without a lot of characters or side-issues. A novel, on the other hand, generally has a larger cast, fully developed characters, more detail, and additional sub-plots. In the case of Nightfall, I think the point was based on the Emerson quote above, and the short story dealt with it quite nicely.

As to availability, in the US the only in-print edition seems to be the first volume of The Complete Asimov. I'm sorry to say that's us$15 new here, and I have no idea if it's available, or for what price, in the UK (not that it doesn't contain a lot of excellent material for that price, but it's a lot for a single story!) You might be able to find it in a local library or you might check on-line sources such as Open Library or the Internet Archive for lending copies (again, I'm not sure how that works in the UK. In the US, I can read it in my browser via Open Library by checking out "Nightfall and Other Stories in Open Library" .)

I apologize for the lack of accessibility. I thought I checked for in-print sources, but I guess I messed up with this one (doubly embarrassing, because I did the nomination last month.)


thegoodlurker | 2 comments Well, this story felt dated, just like my only other encounter with Asimov's stories. But points for making me chuckle.

And sorry for the ignorance, but could someone explain to me the Emerson quote, in particular what is "the city of God which had been shown"?
Thanks!


message 16: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 23, 2013 01:57PM) (new)

thegoodlurker wrote: "Well, this story felt dated, just like my only other encounter with Asimov's stories."

Well, it is dated. Science fiction was a much smaller genre in 1941, and Asimov was only 21 years old, writing for a cheap pulp magazine. His prose is straightforward and direct, and the exposition dialog a little stiff. (I'm only very slightly less dated, myself, by the way. :)
thegoodlurker wrote: "Could someone explain to me the Emerson quote, in particular what is 'the city of God which had been shown'?"
I can try, but be warned, my poetic license was revoked years ago. :)

I believe Emerson is comparing the sight of the stars in the night sky, a thousand tiny pinpoints of light in the blackness, with a view looking down upon a city at night, perhaps observing Boston's Back Bay and Cambridge from atop Beacon Hill, in all its gas lit splendor (I'm pretty sure he wasn't on the observation deck of the Prudential tower :) Since his imagined illuminated city overhead was in the heavens, who else could it belong to but God?

You'll notice that when Asimov himself describes the night sky in his short story Nightfall, he takes a much more pragmatic approach to the description, talking about star clusters and actually enumerating the stars at 30,000. Emerson was a poet, while Asimov was a scientist. I leave it to you to decide whose description you prefer.
"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!"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you for un-lurking, thegoodlurker.


message 17: by Steve (new)

Steve Haywood | 53 comments I have done a search on the internet, and come up with this PDF copy of the original Nightfall short story. Will be sending to my Kindle to read on the train tomorrow. Will post my thoughts afterwards.

http://www.uni.edu/morgans/astro/cour...


Michael Corleone (michaelc1) I've been reading the the longer treatment given the story by Asimov and Silverberg, but I'm going to quit. This story just does not deserve the full length treatment. Everything that is going to happen is telegraphed in the first 50 pages. There's no sense of suspense and therefore no motivation to read the whole thing. I'll find the short story and read it instead.


message 19: by Steve (new)

Steve Haywood | 53 comments I've just read the short story and I really enjoyed it. I think it's just the right length, and can imagine padding it out into a full length novel could never be as good. I've never really been one for short stories, but this one drew me in. A great concept and well executed. I liked the idea of a world without darkness, such that they hadn't even invented artificial light. I also liked the sub-plot about the mad cultist who couldn't bear the notion that scientists might prove that his beliefs were based on hard science and not a supernatural force.

I agree with G33z3r, the bit at the end where the author speaks directly to us earthlings, was very jarring and unnecesary.

Based on reading this, I'm going to seek out more science fiction short stories. I look forward to next month's pick!


message 20: by Stephen (new)

Stephen St. Onge | 117 comments thegoodlurker wrote: "Well, this story felt dated, just like my only other encounter with Asimov's stories. But points for making me chuckle.

And sorry for the ignorance, but could someone explain to me the Emerson quote, in particular what is "the city of God which had been shown"?
Thanks!"


        The "City of God" is the entire vast universe.  "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."


message 21: by Stephen (new)

Stephen St. Onge | 117 comments G33z3r wrote: {Note, this is a reply to the wrong message, because the "reply" button doesn't work for the correct one.}

"It occurred to me (perhaps somewhat belatedly) that "Nightfall" is an early (perhaps the first) example of what has become a now-familiar trope of Eternal Cycle : The concept that all this has happened before and all this will happen again ... TVtropes doesn't list any literature employing the idea prior to 'Nightfall' (the Buddhist Kalachakra predating all of it, naturally.)"


        The earliest literary use I know of it would be in either The Gay Science: with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs by Nietzsche, first published in 1882, revised edition in 1887, or in The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison, depending on whether you consider Nietzsche's work literature or philosophy.  (My judgment, btw, is that Nietszche is both.)


thegoodlurker | 2 comments G33z3r, Stephen,
thanks!
Poetry and especially religion are not my strong points :)
Oh, Asimov was a biochemistry professor besides the writing. Sci-fi being written by actual scientists... well I never!
Thank you for un-lurking, thegoodlurker.
%)


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

thegoodlurker wrote: "Oh, Asimov was a biochemistry professor besides the writing. Sci-fi being written by actual scientists...."

I think a lot of science fiction authors have as much interest in science as fiction, so I wouldn't be surprised to discover many of them have degrees in the sciences (depends on your definition of "scientist" at that point.) Robert L. Forward is a good example of a astrophysicist writing science fiction: in his novel Dragon's Egg, he develops an entire physics for life on the surface of a neutron star. Very entertaining. Vernor Vinge is another good example of academic turned fiction author.

Of course, the more successful they are as a scientist, the less time they have to write fiction. (Thus, only lousy scientists write science fiction?)

Science fiction legend Hugo Gernsback (after whom the Hugo Award is named) was a successful electronics inventor. Carl Sagan took time out from making TV series to write Contact from his passion with SETI. And the great Leo Szilard wrote a few science-fiction stories, but it seems he was too busy pioneering the world's first atomic reactor to write very many.

My bookshelf includes the anthology Great Science Fiction by Scientists, Though since that's from 1962, there may have been one or two other scientists/authors since then. :)


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Nightfall...generally considered the best SF story ever written....buff said


message 25: by Bobby (new)

Bobby Bermea (beirutwedding) | 412 comments Spooky1947 wrote: "Nightfall...generally considered the best SF story ever written....buff said"

Woah! "Generally considered the best SF story ever written".

As much as that strikes me as a fairly ridiculously statement ("generally" like who?), I have to admit, I'm now intrigued to read the story. Who wrote it?


message 26: by [deleted user] (last edited May 10, 2013 04:16PM) (new)

Bobby wrote: "Woah! "Generally considered the best SF story ever written".
As much as that strikes me as a fairly ridiculously statement ("generally" like who?)..."


The Science Fiction Writers of America voted Nightfall the best science fiction short story ever written - "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol 1" (in 1970; Luckily, nothing of significance has been written since then :) (The SFWA are the folk who choose the Nebula Award each year.)


message 27: by Bobby (new)

Bobby Bermea (beirutwedding) | 412 comments Well, I certainly trust the Nebula awards as an awards giving body. I guess I'd be loathe to say anything is the best anything ever buuut...I am definitely intrigued to read this story now. Who wrote it?


message 28: by [deleted user] (last edited May 10, 2013 05:12PM) (new)

Bobby wrote: "Who wrote it?"

Isaac Asimov

I will note that what's been said here applies to the original short story, which is also one of the most anthologized short stories ever. You can find it in many collections, including:

Nightfall and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov Nightfall and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov

or The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume 1, etc.

Robert Silverberg expanded the short story into a full-length novel in 1990, Nightfall (with the permission of Isaac Asimov.) I strongly recommend getting an anthology that contains the short story (there are dozens), Since Asimov didn't actually write the novel, Silverberg did. (Not that there's anything wrong with Silverberg's writing.)


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

:)


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

For those interested, here's academic paper examining Kalgash's orbital mechanics (PDF).

short form: yeah, we can make a planet, a moon & six suns work that way.


message 31: by Bobby (new)

Bobby Bermea (beirutwedding) | 412 comments Wow. I just happen to have that very collection in my paperbacks but I've never read it. Bout to fix that.


message 32: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 08, 2015 06:46PM) (new)

Aha! Early in this topic I commented that this paragraph was jarring for stepping outside the Lagasian narration:
"not Earth's feeble thirty-six hundred stars visible to the eye; Lagash was in the center of a giant cluster....”
Stanley Schmidt (who was editor-in-chief of Analog SF Magazine for 35 years until he retired in 2012) has a non-fiction article in this month's issue (Analog, April 2015) on the subject of expositions in science fiction stories. Near the end of the article, he cites that same paragraph and comments:
"That paragraph was not in the story as Isaac wrote it. How do I know? He told me, years later, and he was not happy about it. John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding, added it, and Isaac didn't like it because it was a clear and, to him, jarring break from the consistent viewpoint he had maintained throughout the story."



message 33: by Andreas (new)

Andreas I'd like to revive this zombie article, as Spookie continuously tries to bless us with an anthology read of "The SF Hall of Fame vol 1". Independently, I read this novelette which is contained in it.

Asimov encapsulates his idea of a complex stellar system in a kind of chamber play, viewing at the history and scientific elements from the positions of scientists, reporter, and psychologist. Initially, the culture seems a bit ridiculous, but after a while it feels natural and very fitting.

The long ranging circle of life reminds me a bit of Anne McCaffrey's Pern or Eddison's Worm Ouroboros but also in the real world of the Mayans which ended in 2012. It is somehow good to know that those people will fall into barbarism but stand up after a while and begin rebuilding their civilization for the next two millenia.

The story doesn't feel as dated or rridiculous as other works from Asimov like The Caves of Steel. Some behaviour or dialogues wouldn't occur in contemporary times but they don't feel completely out of order.

The Science Fiction Writers of America didn't vote Nightfall as the best ever, but only as the best written before 1965. Which is good, because otherwise I'd probably stop reading SF stories - the novelette lacks in several aspects. But I liked it enough to be happy to have read it. Since then, loads of better works have been published, which is even better to know.


message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

Hey G33, this has happened before, it will happen again....you missed the Battlestar example...."What is, was, and will be again...."


message 35: by [deleted user] (new)

G33 said:

Of course, the more successful they are as a scientist, the less time they have to write fiction. (Thus, only lousy scientists write science fiction?)


hey G, Isaac always admitted he was lousy in the chem lab


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