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Literature / Nightfall (1990)

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"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!"

"Other world! There is no other world! Here or nowhere is the whole fact."

Nightfall is a Novel written by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, published in 1990 and based on Dr Asimov's story, "Nightfall (1941)". The novel dramatically expanded the original, in ways that delighted Dr Asimov, even if he was unable to participate in much of the physical writing (Asimov, by now, was only a few years from his death, and was determined to keep doing everything he could to continue publishing; this was the first of Silverberg's three co-authored adaptations).

Kalgash has six suns and therefore never experiences night. The plot follows an archaeologist (Siferra 89), an astrophysicist (Beenay 25), a psychologist (Sheerin 501), and a journalist (Theremon 762) as they collect evidence for a solar eclipse — the eponymous "nightfall" which plunges the planet into chaos. Meanwhile the Apostles of Flame spread the news that the Book of Revelations predicts that on the nineteenth of Theptar, the gods will rain fire down on Kalgash for the sins of humanity.

All five main characters gather at the Saro Observatory to record the upcoming eclipse, which will begin in a few hours. Theremon is nearly thrown out and Flashbacks reveal what occured in the past fourteen months. Then Folimun 66, one of the Apostles of Flame, is discovered before he can sabotage any of their equipment. While they argue with him, Dovim has begun to eclipse, and the scientists rush to record what they can of the event. Folimun warns that he has an angry crowd on the way, led by other Apostles, who will destroy the Observatory before they can take their sacrilegious photographs.

It takes awhile, but Theremon slowly regains his sanity. Each of the surviving protagonists has a viewpoint before returning to the irregular pattern. Some only saw the Stars for a few seconds and are mostly sane a few hours after dawn. Others were out for almost the entire night and remain insane for days after the eclipse. Now they must struggle to survive the crazies, the petty warlords, and the rise of religious fanaticism.

Nightfall provides examples of:

  • 10,000 Years: The Apostles of Flame claim to have existed for ten thousand years. When Theremon 762 interviews a high-ranking member of the Apostles, he admits the figure is arbitrary and perhaps exaggerated, the point is that their organization predates the current history/cycle.
  • Adam and Eve Plot: Balik tries to convince Siferra that they might be the last two people alive in the whole world, and as such they should have sex, but Siferra refuses. Violently. They were both still somewhat insane at the time.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The original Novelette is one of the most famous stories of early Science Fiction, and an edited version is present as a chapter in the middle. The novel expands upon details on events preceding and following the original.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • A note on the copyright page explains that the following events are a true story, so names will be changed to protect the innocent. Character-wise, this means Beenay, Sheerin, and Theremon have the same names, but everyone else is either a new character or named differently.
    • The planet's original name is Lagash, but for this novelization, the planet is named Kalgash.
    • In the original Novella, the suns were given Greek letters as names, such as Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. In this adaptation, the suns are given unique names that still imply their numerical relationship; Onos, Dovim, Trey, Tano, Patru, and Sitha.
    • The religion's original name is simply the Cult with their Book of Revelations, but for this adaptation, they become the Apostles of Flame while their book retains the original name.
  • Alien Sky:
    • Six suns with a complicated orbit cause the sky to be a natural Endless Daytime.
    • In-Universe, the characters observe the night sky and find the large number of stars to be utterly terrifying.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Siferra calls herself an Ice Queen, describing how she puts her career first, remaining apart from any social entanglements, even friendships and especially romance. Being considered attractive is useful in that it gets her their attention, not that she wants anyone's interest.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: Since the thing everyone is most afraid of is darkness, someone has the great idea of making a funfair horror ride where a simple roller coaster goes into a covered space 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 psychologist tries the ride and demands that it be immediately dismantled because of the psychological horror he observed within himself.
  • Anyone Can Die: At least five named characters from the university die, including Sheerin and Athor.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: They basically burn down their entire civilization in the freak-out; 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 Cult: The main characters remark several times on how individual Apostles of Flame seem reasonable, erudite, and even sane. But they persist in claiming the end of the world in an endless cycle, so they must be crazy, right?
  • Apocalypse How: When night falls, the people of Kalgash panic and start to tear apart their own infrastructure, causing Planetary Societal Collapse, and risking Planetary Species Extinction.
  • The Ark: Saro University sets up a Sanctuary in an old particle-accelerator laboratory to keep people safe for the duration of the eclipse. Theremon points out that the Apostles of Flame have their own sanctuaries for people in nearly every city. It's hoped that some people will be able to survive Nightfall without going crazy.
  • Attempted Rape: Balik tries to convince Siferra that they might be the only ones alive, responsible for recreating the species. Siferra still doesn't want to have sex with him, so when he tries to force himself on her, she remembers the club she's carrying for self-defense.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: On the copyright page, one of the lines claims that "Nightfall (1941)" was a true story and this novel was based on that, changing names to protect real people's anonymity.
  • Billed Above the Title: Every cover puts the names of Asimov & Silverberg above the title of the work. The combined authors' names are always larger than the title, but usually using a smaller font.
  • Binary Suns: Out of the six suns of Kalgash, both Tano-Sitha and Patru-Trey are described as being binary pairs, meaning they are always in the sky together.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": "Thargola's Sword" for Occam's Razor. "Godlights" instead of "nightlights" (because Kalgash doesn't have a night). A few other things, but mostly an Averted Trope in favor of Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit". The preface, "To The Reader", explains why the story seems to be written in English rather than inventing Kalgash terms.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The preface, "To The Reader", explains that these Human Aliens aren't actually human at all, it's a Translation Convention to make the work more accessible. The decision to utilize mostly English words and terms like "miles" and "city" rather than "vorks" and "znoob" was to make the work approachable instead of incomprehensible.
    ...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...
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: Due to phobias and rarity, dark is often called Dark or Darkness, and used as a curse word for ill-fortune. Other terms are also spoken with capital letters, such as Stars, Cold, and Doom, all associated with the religious fear caused by nightfall.
  • Claustrophobia: The people of Kalgash are so used to daylight that 15 minutes of darkness is enough for a 10% chance of becoming extremely claustrophobic.
  • Cool Old Guy: Professor Athor is in his late sixties and is a Living Legend in the astronomy field. He takes the bombshell that his most famous work might have some flaws in it gracefully and intelligently, while leading the efforts to prepare for the darkness.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Beenay 25 is so upset by finding a flaw in his mentor's scientific theory that he tries to drink himself into a stupor with his friend Theremon 762. It doesn't seem to work, but when he stands up, he immediately falls down, unconscious from the liquor.
  • Endless Daytime: Well, almost endless... The six suns mean Kalgash is typically bathed in the light of at least one sun. But once every 2049 years, an eclipse darkens the hemisphere, and Darkness falls over all mankind.
  • Epigraph: This Novel opens with two quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of which is the identical quote to the original Novelette, while the other quote doesn't make sense until after The Reveal at 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!"
    "Other world! There is no other world! Here or nowhere is the whole fact."
  • Eternal Recurrence: The Book of Revelation calls this cycle a "Year of Godliness", which lasts for 2049 mundane years, after which the sinful and unclean are destroyed and humanity is given a chance to become pure.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Sheerin 501 makes several jokes at the expense of Cubello 54, the sleek and polished lawyer for the Jonglor Centennial Exposition. The narration does as well, making him a stock caricature of a corporate defense lawyer.
  • First Time in the Sun: An Inverted Trope due to the eclipse being the first time anyone alive has seen the night sky, and a Subverted Trope because the night sky drives everyone insane.
  • Fantastic Naming Convention: The inhabitants of the planet Kalgash have a name followed by a number, e.g. Sheerin 501, Beenay 25, etc.
  • Flashback:
    • After getting warned away from the Observatory, Theremon takes a moment to reflect on what caused him to write hurtful accounts of the scientists he had befriended. Their claims were too incredulous, he felt, and they didn't have enough evidence to overcome his skepticism. This introspection helps him realize that if the eclipse does occur on schedule, he will be partially to blame for people ignoring their words of warning.
    • After seeing Theremon again, Siferra reflects on how he adroidly courted her, despite her aversion to social meetings. It ended due to the first of his satirical attacks upon her university. She called him up recently to mock his skipticism and invite him to the Observatory to watch the eclipse.
    • In his first perspective in "Daybreak", Theremon is trying to piece his memories and identity back together after seeing the events of "Nightfall".
    • In his first perspective in "Daybreak", Sheerin recalls how he, a rotund little psychologist, managed to escape the ravages of madness and the insane mob.
    • In her first perspective in "Daybreak", Siferra recalls how she faced the Darkness and the Stars. It smoothly transitions back to the present because she hasn't entirely recovered yet from the insanity. Her narration holds conversations with her thoughts.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: During the titular climax, society goes insane. After the climax, one of the protagonists narrowly avoids an encounter with a feral man who hunts other people for food and wears nothing but a belt (to carry his knives).
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The plot involves the main characters frantically trying to prevent their civilization from suffering mass panic and hysteria when they finally experience Darkness for the first time. While the Darkness is bad enough, what no-one is prepared for is the billions and billions of stars that suddenly appear in the night sky. This leads to the far more devastating revelation that their solar system, which they had originally believed to be the extent of the entire universe, is merely a tiny part of it.
  • Good All Along: For all of the sinister Apocalypse Cult buildup they get and conflicts they have with the pov characters, the Apostles of the Flame are trying to save humanity in general and actually understand that their own dogma is somewhat inaccurate, but feel that believing it will provide more comfort and stability to the survivors. Their Torches and Pitchforks mob also secretly intended to rescue the university scientists rather than kill them. The final act builds them up as an army of conquest preparing to murder the surviving scientists when instead they offer to work alongside them.
    Folimun: I am a fanatic. And a cultist, I suppose. But not a madman. Not a crackpot. I only wish I were.
  • Identity Amnesia: During "Daybreak", characters are trying to recover after losing their minds from "Nightfall"'s revelations. Theremon is the first narrative point-of-view we're exposed to, and he has to slowly piece back together his memory and identity.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: This Novel is broken into three parts; "Twilight", "Nightfall", and "Darkness".
  • 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.
  • Irony: Everyone is trying to prevent their society from going completely mad once they experience the darkness caused by the eclipse. Unfortunately, no-one was prepared for the billions of stars that appeared in the night sky, and the revelation that their society, which they had previously believed to be the entire universe, was only a tiny part of a much greater whole. It's not just the darkness that drives everyone mad, but the billions of lights that can be seen in the darkness.
  • Language Equals Thought: Kalgash doesn't have a night, so characters talk of morning (the time between Onus-rise and midday), afternoon (the time between midday and Onus-set), and evening (the time after Onus-set). The actual orbital mechanics are even more complicated, but this is a simplified explanation. In addition, because they've never been exposed to night, the little lights in bedrooms to keep from getting too dark are called godlights.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: The four of the five different perspectives used for this story are scientists because Dr Asimov is primarily a scientist. The fifth perspective, Theremon 762, is a journalist for the Saro city Chronicle, a large newspaper. Theremon's perspective is used for most of the "Nightfall" section and opens the "Daybreak" part of the story.
  • Mythology Gag: Aton's final line from the original story is repeated exactly, by Athor.
  • A Mythology Is True: The holy book of the Apostles is actually a remarkably accurate historical accounting.
  • The Namesake:
    • The title of Nightfall reflects an event that happens every 2049 years.
    • In-Universe, the Acolytes of Flame have named themselves after the Time of Flame, when the gods rain fire down on Kalgash for the sins of humanity. An event that occurs every two thousand, forty-nine years.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: Now that Athor 77's Theory of Gravitation is proven to not correctly predict Kalgash's orbit, the astronomers try several theories to explain the discrepancy between observed and predicted phenomena. They try a gravitational lens, a burned-out sun, a fold in space, a zone of negative mass, and even a small unseen satellite around Kalgash itself. This last unbelievable theory is the only one that fits the observations.
  • No One Sees the Boss: Mondior, leader of the Apostles of the Flame cult, turns out to be fictitious (seen only in video simulations). His "spokesman", Folimun, is the real leader of the group.
  • Numbered Homeworld: During this story, astrologers discover a distant moon around Kalgash, and name it "Kalgash 2".
  • One-Word Title
  • Post-Apocalyptic Traffic Jam: the characters need to traverse a highway packed with unmoving cars in the wake of a total societal collapse.
  • Primal Fear: According to Sheerin 501, a psychologist, humans are born with three instinctive fears; loud noises, falling, and Darkness. The upcoming eclipse is assumed dangerous because the entire civilization is about to be exposed to it without preparation. What really happens is seeing the Stars creates an existential crisis where they realize how insignificant they really are.
  • Restart the World: When the eclipse happens, the population Goes Mad from the Revelation of all the stars in the sky and burns down their civilization, leaving the survivors to start over from scratch. There is archaeological evidence that this has happened multiple times in the past, but the one time we witness it the records of the previous event are considered a myth only believed in by a few crazy cultists. The cultists believe it is the wrath of their god, destroying their civilization and starting over.
  • Shameful Strip: After the fall of civilization, Siferra is waylaid by a Fire Patrol and forced to strip naked at gunpoint to prove she doesn't have any firemaking apparatus on her.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Theremon observes some of the Observatory scientists playing stochastic chess while waiting for the eclipse to occur.
  • Switching P.O.V.: This Novel remains in Third-Person Limited throughout the story, but shifts irregularly between Athor 77, Beenay 25, Sheerin 501, Siferra 89, and Theremon 762. Their perspectives give a broad cross-section of Kalgash society, though they all share a scientific mindset, like the authors.
  • Tagline:
    • "Writing together for the first time"
    • "The incredible novel based on one of the most popular stories of all time"
  • Those Two Guys: Astronomy grad students Faro and Yimot are close friends who always work together: each man only has one scene without the other.
  • Tomes of Prophecy and Fate: The Apostles of Flame have a holy scripture, called the Book of Revelations. It is a record of the events from the previous cycle of destruction and rebuilding, and may date back even earlier.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: (Subverted Trope) Folimun warns the scientists that other Apostles will be bringing a crowd of angry people to the Observatory. By the time the crowd arrives, there is almost no light and the mob has turned into a panic. They assault the Observatory without weapons, just bare hands and mindless fear.
  • Translation Convention: The foreword explains the reasoning behind applying English words for things that were not in English, such as using "miles" for distance rather than the more alien "vorks".
    ...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.
  • Under City: Archaeologists discover that a hill near their city is actually the ruins of several older cities, piled on top of each other. They all burned down in intervals of roughly 2,000 years. This coincides with nightfall on a planet of (near-total) daytime. People panic and start burning things to bring back the light and wind up destroying everything. Over and over and over...
  • Vigilante Militia: In the third act, after maddened people burn down whole cities and forests due to fear of the stars and the darkness, many citizen militias form to stop them. Some are tough but fair, while others accost anyone who lights so much as a cooking fire.
  • Virtual Celebrity: Mondior, the High Priest of the Apostles of Flame is actually a machine created as a false head of the organization. He only ever appears on television, so he can give multiple "live" broadcasts.
    "[Mondior is] a convenient mythical construct, put together by electronic synthesis to make speeches on television." — Theremon 762
  • Xanatos Gambit: Folimun 66 is discovered before he's able to sabotage the Observatory equipment. Now that he's captured, he tells the scientists that he has some of the other Apostles bringing a mob here, and unless he tells them the Observatory has renounced their godless ways, the mob will break in and tear their equipment apart anyway. How can they renounce their godless ways? By dismantling their equipment. Fulimon wins; the walls of the Observatory manage to resist, but for less than an hour of attack. By the time morning comes, the equipment has been rendered useless.