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Posts Tagged ‘Issac Asimov’

Nightfall by Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 30, 2014

Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 27/01/2013

Publisher – Random House; Year of Publication – 1990; Pages – 339; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs. 259

Imagine a world with no night. It was said “Let there be light”, but the day was never meant to be endless. If it had not been for the night, lovers could not have cherished their forbidden love in moonlight, but left to grope at each other in the shadows of dark alleys. The wonder of the stars that fill the night sky would be lost forever and so would be the serene calm of moonlight. There would be no respite or relief from the heat of the sun. Cat burglars would be left jobless and nocturnal beings would be fast-tracked to extinction. But for the people on the planet of Kalgash, there was no night. They were surrounded by six stars which, in coordination, gave them endless light. They knew of no stars or moons since they saw neither in their sky.

But all good things must come to an end. And so the night falls on Kalgash, with an eclipse; an event that happens once in two millennium and all chaos breaks loose. “Nightfall” was originally a short story written by Asimov in 1941 to answer a quote by the American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, about what would happen if the stars appear only once in a millennium. While Emerson chose to draw an optimistic view, Asimov came up with a chaotic nightmare. “Nightfall” was later expanded by Asimov, with the help of another scifi author, Robert Silverberg, to give a completion to his short story. The story pits a doomsday cult, who expects the finality of their beliefs in the eclipse, against a group of scientists, who wishes smooth eclipse.

Celestial events have always held a strong fascination for humanity, especially among people purporting to predict events out of them. But our incomplete knowledge of the universe gives an author unlimited scope to experiment his most fantastic ideas, without inviting ire from the general public. Although over the past century we have made tremendous progress in astronomy and astrophysics, there are still enough unknowns left for future generations to discover. It may still turn out that we are dumber than dinosaurs in the field of astronomy.

In “Nightfall”, Asimov takes on many religious views that believe in inevitable doom and judgement. But with “Nightfall” he also identifies the wisdom of such beliefs and the relevance of it in normal society. As an astute historian, Asimov can break down and separate the significance of religion from superstition.


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