Asimov (1920–1992) was an extremely prolific (and popular) author
of fiction and non-fiction. He was one of the authors name-checked in
the essay that inspired my review series Young
People Read Old SFF
So which of his short stories to choose? I admit to being torn
between 1941's “Nightfall” and 1952's “The Martian Way”; both
are well-known, both are deemed Hall-of-Fame-worthy. In the end,
“Nightfall” won, because it seemed to be the more famous of the
two stories, the only one to get a (somewhat regrettable)
novel-length expansion and the only one of the two to get its own
(very regrettable) movie. Two movies, in fact.
seems thus far to have been spared the erasure other once-prominent
authors suffer after their death; Kitchener Public Library's card
catalog indicates 48 Asimov books lurk here and there in the stacks.
Did the 21-year-old Asimov who wrote “Nightfall” have what it
takes for his fiction to stay relevant seven decades later?
actually read this one before, in a collection of Asimov stories. I
the details but knew what the big reveal was. Maybe because I read and
liked the Foundation stories I don't find the prose in this story so foreign.
And foreign is the word for all these stories. They were clearly written
by people who lived in a different time and place. People just don't
speak like that anymore and writers don't write dialogue like that anymore.
format is one that I've seen in other stories, a journalist chasing a story
as a means to give the scientists someone to explain to. It's a good trick,
and kept the story moving.
couple questions nagged at me a while after reading this story. First I had
to check in on the stability of a stellar system like the one described.
The best I found was that it could be stable for a few years, but
it's very unlikely that it would be stable for more than one or two 'cycles'
of 2500 years. The second question was about the society's reaction
to darkness. Did these people never close their eyes for long? Did they
have no buildings more than one room deep? Thick walled tombs? Thick *blankets*?
How is it that they have sophisticated telescopes but needed to invent
the candle just a few weeks before the story? Were there no thrill-seeking
spelunkers exploring caves using torches? You'd think that with
a species-wide phobia of the dark they would be all over artificial light
sources so that they never need to be in the dark even during bad weather.
is my fourth attempt to write my impressions of the story. I have had a
hard time writing something that:
make me sound dumb.
make me sound pretentious.
make me sound dumb and pretentious.
please enjoy my point-form impressions of Asimov's Nightfall.
is the first story I've read that had distinct characters (i.e.
Different characters who respond to the same stimulus differently.)
I'd missed that in the first two stories, so it's nice to see that.
really hates religion.
liked the thought that people had never invented lamps because it
never got dark.
story talked a lot and set up a universe that, as far as I could
tell didn't go very far.
was a decent enough introduction to Asimov, as a person and as a writer.
Would I read him again? Meh.
Before reading this
story, I had absorbed the vague opinion that Asimov isn’t for
everyone. Nightfall was less ‘Astounding Science Fiction’ and
more ‘tediously detailed mind exercise’. Although free of glaring
contradictions to current science – partly because the story took
place on an imaginary planet – the narrative felt like an
introduction leading up to the action that never happened.
I imagine the lack
of fantastical ideas has to do with the timing of Nightfall’s
publication, and demand for comforting stories. It’s a basic
what-if scenario. Easy to grasp. Heck, Asimov even includes
explanations of basic scientific principles just in case.
I imagine a teenager
going to the shops. While running errands to check for mail from his
older brother, he hears the radio blaring news and propaganda. Mother
told him that once he bought the things on her list, he could have
the extra quarter for himself. She won’t approve if he spends it
all on candy. He spies the most recent issue of Astounding Science
Fiction on the stand. Once he’s done reading it, he’s sure he can
trade Jimmy for a different magazine. He buys it (plus one of the 5
cent candy bars). He gets home and reads the first story, chuckling
at the silly men in the first story.
On the other hand, I
have to admit that the writing style is excellent. It flowed easily
without being overly technical, and there were no belaboured
explanations of this alternative human culture. But I’m reminded of
high school essays handed back with the comment: ‘Excellent
writing. Work on developing your ideas.’
writing, but boring. Not for me.
I was 15, my parents got us the I,
movie for Christmas. This prompted me to find the stories that had
inspired the movie, only to discover that they were really rather
boring and move on to read better things.
out my opinion of Asimov has not improved in the last 12 years.
as apocalypse is not exactly the most compelling apocalyptic story
I’ve ever come across. I never bought that the eclipse was actually
going to drive everyone insane, even as it was happening. The endless
pages of talking about it only made me me thoroughly bored of the
story. I never felt any tension, because I never believed them. Up
until the very end I expected this story to be very anticlimactic,
where life kept on going and everyone was fine.
still think everything’s probably going to be fine. How long is the
total eclipse going to last? A few hours? I don’t really think that
that’s enough for the total collapse of civilization, although I
suppose if everyone is really, truly, irrevocably insane, that might
do it. (Is my scepticism showing?)
whole premise of a society where nobody has ever been in the dark
breaks my credulity too. Even with the number of suns this world has,
nobody’s ever built a building with a windowless room in it?
Nobody’s needed to invent a light source for any purpose? Or was it
supposed to be the mere existence of stars that drove people insane?
Because they kept going on and on (and on and on) about the darkness
and claustrophobia, but our scientists had torches for light and they
still went insane. There’s also the issue of who is likely to be
able to survive this apocalypse. Classist much?
beyond the unlikeliness of the supposed apocalypse, all the
characters in this story felt like stereotypes. The scientist that
nobody believed until it was too late. The religious fanatic that
believes science is blasphemy. The psychologist that’s there to
explain at length why the world is doomed because of human nature.
The reporter that’s there to give everyone somebody to talk to.
None of the characters get any more development than that, because
they aren’t characters, really. They’re props for Asimov’s
thought experiment that’s pretending to be a story.
of course, any women mentioned are far enough away that there’s no
risk of them actually appearing in the narrative.There
are some ideas in the story that have potential. For example, there
is mention of cooperation between the religious and scientific
leaders that happened off screen. However, religion and science
working together to improve knowledge would be far too interesting
for this story, so we never get to actually see that happening.Unfortunately,
there were far too few ideas that made me the slightest bit
interested. I remain convinced of my prior opinion that Asimov’s
work is boring and there are many better things I could spend my time