Nightfall • 1941 • SF novelette by Isaac Asimov

★★★1/2

Only every 2050 years, a total eclipse leads to darkness on planet Lagash which is enlighted by its six surrounding suns. The inhabitants haven’t even developed the concept of night. Now that the eclipse approaches, a team of scientists, a psychologist and a reporter gather to give witness and transport knowledge of the handful of stars that might fill the remaining universe. They are confronted by a cult who believes that civilization will end.

Asimov’s story is a reaction to Emerson’s

„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!

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 as other works from Asimov like Caves of Steel. Some behaviour or dialogues wouldn’t occur in contemporary times but they don’t feel ridiculous.

The Science Fiction Writers of America voted Nightfall the best science fiction short story written before 1965. I can’t comment on that but I liked it enough. It certainly lacks literary wise, and the social interactions are a bit light weight. Asimov wasn’t responsible for the dysfunctional ending which addressed the reader and was decoupled from the consistent rest of the story. This one was added by Astounding’s editor Campbell.

 

Meta: isfdb. This SF novelette appeared September 1941 in Astounding.

 

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