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Literature: Nightfall
"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!"

"I think men would go mad instead."
John W. Campbell, dissenting from the above quote

Nightfall is a short story and novel by Isaac Asimov. The original short story was first published in 1941, one of Asimov's earliest published works, and the first critically successful work of his career. The story had since been republished in many anthologies and was familiar to science fiction fans. The 1990 novel was an expansion of the short story, which only covered what became the second third of the novel. Robert Silverberg collaborated with him on the novel. The original story won a special Hugo award as the best science-fiction short story of all time.

Nightfall is about a planet with six suns that therefore never experiences true night. The plot follows an archaeologist, an astrophysicist, a psychologist, and a journalist in the months leading up to a scientifically predicted solar eclipse - the eponymous "nightfall" which plunges the planet into chaos. They also deal with a cult whose holy book predicts the eclipse as well, and who have been planning for it for upward of two thousand years.

Unless otherwise noted, all references here are to the novel.

Tropes include:

  • Adam and Eve Plot - A would-be rapist's justification for his actions.
  • Alien Sky - To us, the world of the story. To the characters in the story, the night sky, and especially the stars.
  • All Myths Are True - The holy book of the cult is actually a remarkably accurate historical accounting.
  • Amusement Park of Doom - Since the thing everyone's most afraid of is darkness, someone has the great idea of making a funfair horror ride that goes for fifteen minutes with no light whatsoever. Strong-willed people who take it are temporarily reduced to quivering wrecks. Weak-minded ones go permanently insane. The ride does not last long.
  • Ancient Conspiracy - 2049 years is a long time to wait to try to take over the world.
  • And Man Grew Proud - The holy book, again.
  • Anyone Can Die - Not all the main characters make it out alive.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: They basically burn down their entire civilization in the freakout; then the survivors start over from scratch. By the time of the next eclipse, the only record of the previous one is in mythology.
  • Apocalypse How - Class 1. Danger of Class 2.
  • The Ark - A bunker in an old particle accelerator complex.
  • Asimov's Three Kinds of Science Fiction - Social.
  • Attempted Rape - After the eclipse. Proves fatal for the would-be attacker.
  • Bad Moon Rising - The central third of the plot.
  • Binary Suns - Kalgash has two pairs of binary suns!
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" - "Thargola's Sword" for Occam's Razor. A few other things. Mostly averted in favor of Translation Convention, as seen below.
  • Endless Daytime: Well, almost endless...
  • First Time in the Sun: Inverted by it being the first time under the night sky, and subverted in that this is anything but a Crowning Moment Of Awesome for those who see it.
  • Fantastic Naming Convention: The inhabitants of the planet Lagash have a name followed by a number, e.g. Sheerin 501, Beenay 25, etc.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet - When one character sees the Stars, he realizes that the universe must not merely be made of the six suns, Kalgash and Kalgash 2.
  • It Will Never Catch On - At one point, discussing the aversion to darkness universal among the populace, an example of a world with a single sun, exposed to an average of 12 hours of darkness per day is posited. It's ridiculed as a useless thought experiment, because darkness is considered so inimical to life that such a world would be barren and dead.
  • Just Before the End
  • Madness Mantra: Happens at the end of the short story, when the six suns set but the stars in the night sky reveal themselves, leading the character of Aton to start crying and saying "Stars—all the stars—we didn't know at all. We didn't know anything. We thought six stars in a universe is something the Stars didn't notice is Darkness forever and ever and ever and the walls are breaking in and we didn't know we couldn't know anything—"
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness - Pretty much rock-solid. Posits no new technology or science, the only thing that makes this science fiction at all is the setting.
  • Negative Space Wedgie - One of the theories the physicists propose to explain a perturbation in the planet's orbit.
  • Numbered Homeworld - "Kalgash 2", the previously unknown moon.
  • Primal Fear - An entire planet that has never known darkness. People of all ages sleep with nightlights. What would happen if this world encountered true darkness en masse without sufficient preparation?
  • Science Marches On - It's likely that a planet near so many stars would have a highly unstable orbit and be uninhabitable. But then, that's what they said about a planet with just one star...
    • In addition, careful reading of the story makes it clear that the planet has several continents, far enough apart to be in different hemispheres of the planet. Therefore, during the period where there is only one visible sun, the inhabitants of the continents facing away from that sun would experience night (and darkness) without the need for an apocalyptic eclipse. This is never addressed in the story...
      • T Hey might probably be seeing another of the suns.
  • Torches and Pitchforks - Emphasis on the torches, in a collective attempt to stave off darkness.
  • Translation Convention - From the foreword:
    "...We could have told you that our character paused to strap on his quonglishes before setting out on a walk of seven vorks along the main gleebish of his native znoob, and everything would have seemed ever so much more thoroughly alien. But it also would have been ever so much more difficult to make sense out of what we were saying, and that did not seem useful."
Native SonLiterature of the 1940sOn Fairy-Stories
The Gods ThemselvesCreator/Isaac AsimovProbe
New Kashubia SeriesLiterature of the 1990sA Night in the Lonesome October
The Nexus SeriesScience Fiction LiteratureNight Lords

alternative title(s): Nightfall
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