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Nightfall by Isaac Asimov

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“Nightfall” is a 1941 science fiction novella by Isaac Asimov. It is about a newspaperman who witnesses the last hours of sunlight from an observatory on the planet Lagash.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

Solar Eclipse 1999 - photo by Luc Viatour“Nightfall” is the classic story of Theremon 762, a somewhat skeptical newspaper reporter who is at the Saro Observatory with a handful of astronomers on what they claim is the last day of civilization. Their planet, Lagash, has six suns, and that special time every 2,500 years when all of them are eclipsed simultaneously is only four hours away! The astronomers are predicting mass insanity as people experience total darkness for the first time in their lives, while the Cultists are proclaiming the “end of the world!” Who is right? What will really happen? Will the darkness really bring about a mass of crazy people??? Tune in to the rest of this story as it gives detailed answers to these and many other questions as well!

Aton compressed his lips and then muttered sullenly, “That’s Theremon 762, the newspaper fellow. I suppose you’ve heard of him.”

The columnist offered his hand. “And, of course, you’re Sheerin 501 of Saro University. I’ve heard of you.” Then he repeated, “What is this Hideout, sir?”

“Well,” said Sheerin, “we have managed to convince a few people of the validity of our prophecy of—er—doom, to be spectacular about it, and those few have taken proper measures. They consist mainly of the immediate members of the families of the Observatory staff, certain of the faculty of Saro University and a few outsiders. Altogether, they number about three hundred, but three quarters are women and children.”

“I see! They’re supposed to hide where the Darkness and the—er—Stars can’t get at them, and then hold out when the rest of the world goes poof.”

“If they can. It won’t be easy. With all of mankind insane; with the great cities going up in flames — environment will not be conducive to survival. But they have food, water, shelter, and weapons —”

“They’ve got more,” said Aton. “They’ve got all our records, except for what we will collect today. Those records will mean everything to the next cycle, and that’s what must survive. The rest can go hang.”

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • A classic example of Asimov’s legendary early sci-fi skills! This story looks in depth at how people might react to a completely unique experience.
  • Asimov’s inclusion of the classic battle between religion and science is awesome!
  • A great story that every true fan of science fiction should have under his or her belt.

• The bad:

  • If you are not a fan of Isaac Asimov’s story telling style (nearly all of the story unfolds through a series of verbose conversations) then you might not like this one.
  • Sure, “Nightfall” is a long story, but this fantastic MP3 version makes it a snap to listen while you do other things – like commute to your crappy job, for example!
  • As one of my readers pointed out, if English is not your first language then you may have a hard time understanding this story. However, in Escape Pod’s defense, this is an absolutely excellent reading of the story.

Fact Sheet:
• Audio Length: 90 minutes
“Nightfall” garnered the following awards:

  • It was the winner of the 1971 Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll for short fiction.
  • It placed 2nd in the 1999 Locus All-Time Poll for novelettes.
  • “Nightfall” is also listed at #2 on the Top 100 SF Short Stories at Sci-Fi Lists. (Retrieved on May 30, 2008)

Where you can find “Nightfall”:

  • This novella first appeared in the September 1941 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.
  • “Nightfall” is included in the amazing collection Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories, Vol. 1 .
  • You can listen to a free audio version of this story at Escape Pod, where you can download the MP3 or stream it through your browser. (The story begins at time index 3:25)

Some Interesting Links:

  • Have you wondered how Isaac Asimov got his idea for this story? Check out this article on enotes.com for an interesting history lesson.
  • Did you know that Isaac Asimov passed away just over 16 years ago – in April of 1992? Check out this post that talks about some of his achievements and has two really cool YouTube clips of Asimov – one an interview and the other a speech given in 1989. Interesting stuff.
  • Asimov and fellow sci-fi writer Robert Silverberg later expanded this short story into a novel of the same name. It tells more about what happened before and after the eclipse. You can check out Nightfall , the novel, on Amazon.com.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Last Contact, about a field of dark energy that is devouring the entire universe, by Stephen Baxter.