After The Gods Themselves, which was not as deeply and thoroughly explored as I would have expected from an Asimov novel, and certainly nothing to compare to a classic piece like Foundation, I will admit that I was a little put off of Asimov. However, I came across a reference to this short story when I was working on my post about writing aliens, and I decided to give it a read. It was just what I needed to remind me why Asimov is considered one of the great science fiction authors of all time.
Perhaps he is better in short story form (I sometimes think that science fiction as a genre is better in short story form, and there is definitely a reason that we don’t see science fiction pieces scraping half a million words the way fantasy epics do (I don’t count space operas)). Nightfall is one of Asimov’s early works, published in 1941, and it is also among his best, painting a compelling, alien world, for all that it is populated by humans.
Rather than delving into alien physiology, or alien psychology, or alien evolution and drives, Asimov focuses on a single idea: what if there were a civilization that had evolved never knowing darkness. In true “in late, out early” fashion, the story focuses on the span of time just around the eclipse that causes darkness to fall upon the planet once every twenty-five hundred years.
From a writing perspective, there are plenty of things that might seem technically lacking about this story. The descriptions and dialogue tags, especially in the early part of the story, are very out of vogue in modern writing, there isn’t much character conflict, and all of our characters are relatively well-adjusted to their present circumstances. The story’s tension derives from the central questions – will darkness come, what are the stars, and what will the effects be if the eclipse does come to pass – not from character angst, though the characters are well-developed and interesting. In other words, writing a good story is more complicated than knowing how the mechanics are being done today.
There is a novelization of this short story, but it is a collaboration with another author, and I don’t really think that the story needs extending. Sure, there’s always more story to tell, and it would be interesting to know what happens after this one ends and what leads up to this one starting, but that’s what readers have imaginations for, and I prefer to use mine. Hence the “in late, out early” reference at this review’s beginning (perhaps I should do a post on that concept).
Another classic piece of science fiction, this should take you less than an hour to read, but it will set you thinking for long after you’ve finished it. You might say that it will keep you thinking after Nightfall. I hope you give it a read soon.