Nightfall by Asimov and Silverberg - I don't get it

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Nightfall by Asimov and Silverberg - I don't get it

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Jul 24, 2019, 5:43 am

For who read the book (not the short story), maybe you can help me understand. Doom on an enormous scale is threatening because the only sun left on one side of the planet is about to be eclipsed. On the other side of the planet there are no less than 5 suns shining that won't be affected by the eclipse. Why not all move to the other side for half a day? I don't get it. It doesn't even get mentioned once (granted, I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm over halfway in). This seems like a huge flaw in the story and is really ruining my reading experience. Am I missing something? Or did the authors just ignore this obvious solution?

Jul 24, 2019, 7:37 am

Is it that easy to relocate that many people?

Jul 24, 2019, 8:30 am

I've not read the novel; but I do observe that a lot of sf writers, even though they may have Cosmic Consciousnesses, sometimes forget that they live on a globe. Best example that comes to mind? Larry Niven's short story Inconstant Moon.

People notice one night that the Moon has become really, REALLY bright. So bright, in fact, that there can only be one explanation: the Sun has gone nova, and the end of the world can only be a few hours away. I forget how Niven explained away the fact that we would be in communication with the daytime side of the globe - and the story pre-dates the globally wired community - but even with the necessary hand-waving to make the story work, the premise wasn't stupendously convincing.

Of course, the Sun hasn't gone nova and there is a rational explanation. And it's so long since I read it that I don't recollect if the objective of the story had any sort of Orson Welles 'War of the Worlds' broadcast subtext. But this story only works if you suspend disbelief for purposes of Plot. It may also be so for Nightfall - both the short story and the novel.

(And given that the short story opens with an epigram that sets the whole plot device out in words of one syllable, we may safely assume that when Asimov first wrote it in 1941, he simply wanted to play with the idea rather than explore the practical effects and mitigations of that particular astronomical configuration. Whether the same applies to the novel rather depends on exactly what sort of Doom is expected to happen when the final sun is eclipsed.)

Jul 24, 2019, 10:18 am

The story does cover that 'problem', as I recall.

Jul 24, 2019, 3:41 pm

Well, the impending doom is that everybody will go mad because of the Darkness. They aren't used to darkness; because of the planet's six suns it's never dark on that planet. Also the dark part of the world is supposed to be destroyed by fire, either because there will be an 'event' where it will be raining fire or people will start lots of fires because they're afraid of the dark and desperately need some light, any light at all. Because apparently they'll all be mad, the fires will rage out of control.

They wouldn't need to permanently relocate everybody, the eclipse will only take about half a day or so and the scientists catch on to the impending doom well in advance. Iin the book, the idea of fleeing to the other side of the planet isn't mentioned at all, nor is it addressed as to why it would be impossible. This really bothers me. Maybe I'm jumping the gun and this part of the story will still come up, but it feels like the time for the authors to do that has already passed.
I also didn't get why they wouldn't just all go to sleep or knock themselves unconscious for the duration of the eclipse, or surround themselves with artificial light and this also doesn't really gets answered. It's only implied that everything electrical they have, is of course solar based. Seems like some pretty big oversights to me, or I might just be reading it wrong... :-/ I mean, these are two of the greats of science fiction, right?

Jul 24, 2019, 4:55 pm

>5 Vonini: Right, so the novel is the short story writ large, because that's the same disaster that's about to befall civilization in the short version, too.

The point Asimov was making, as i recollect, was that civilization is destroyed right back to Stone Age levels. No-one survives long enough to write an account of what happened the last time, leaving archaeologists to start again from first principles - "we keep finding this ash layer, so it looks as though everything gets destroyed from time to time" but no-one knows why. And very few or no written records survive, because of Fahrenheit 451 and all that.

The solar energy thing is, I'm fairly sure. an invention for the novel; though it seems reasonable to assume that if you always have at least one sun in the sky, constant light is a given and cessation of supply is not anticipated to be an issue.

There is one other thing that you haven't mentioned, and I hesitate to mention it because it's a great big stonking SPOILER. I don't think Asimov ever considered that people might read the novel without knowing the short story first - or that even with the help of Silverberg, his style would get so turgid that people would lose patience with the novel about half-way in, as you seem to have done.

I'll give you a clue. On a planet with centuries of perpetual daylight, what do you think the state of astronomical knowledge would be? And if this one planet has six suns, what might you deduce about the local star systems?

Jul 24, 2019, 5:28 pm

>1 Vonini: I think I'm with you. I remember not buying the premise when reading it. Everyone goes insane? Nope. (Same thing has spoiled a lot of other stories for me :-)

Jul 25, 2019, 1:57 pm

> RobertDay: The scientists do muse about there being "dozens of other suns" that they haven't seen because of the perpetual daylight and they discuss the idea of a planet with only one sun that would have a day and a night. That was actually the coolest part of the book, I gather that is something of the center of the short story?

The problem with this book for me is that there doesn't really seem to be a real emergency. If one half of the world is eclipsed and that would lead to people going mad because of the darkness (>7 bnielsen: bnielsen, which I can buy, since it's unnatural for them and our forefathers used to get afraid in winter that the days would only continue to get shorter), why not circumvent that? Why not have everyone unconscious, sleeping or moved to the other side for the duration of the eclipse? It feels like cutting corners with logic just so they can display their neat ideas. I'm sorry, icons of science fiction or not, that's just bad writing as far as I'm concerned.

Jul 26, 2019, 8:15 am

>8 Vonini: Please understand:

a) I've read the short story (though not recently) but not the novel; and
b) I'm not in any way sticking up for the quality of the writing, plotting, pacing or anything else. I became well aware from about the age of 20 or so that Asimov's writing was - let's just say 'workmanlike' and little more - and that there are aspects of his work that just don't stand up to modern-day scrutiny. The most recent Asimov book I've read is The Gods Themselves, which I read not long after it came out and haven't read since.

'Nightfall' the short story is a clever exploration of the conundrum Asimov set himself. Personally, knowing what I do about Asimov, I wouldn't have gone to the novel version, even given the participation of Bob Silverberg (someone who I usually have a lot of time for). Silverberg must've had his reasons for taking the job. Sometimes there are sound practical reasons for taking on a project, and if that means that sometimes you end up trying to put lipstick on a pig, then so be it and wait for the cheque to come in.

I don't want to drop the spoiler if you're persevering with the novel. You may well go "Was that it?" when you get to it; after the way you've deconstructed the story so far, it wouldn't surprise me if you did. And I wouldn't blame you for it. The blame would rest with Asimov for trying to extract the last drop of mileage from what is generally considered a neat story (for 1941).

Or it might still work for you. Only you can decide.

Jul 26, 2019, 9:15 am

>8 Vonini: It's been a long time, but don't most people not believe that night is even going to fall (except for like, one scientist and some religious kooks)? Seems difficult to organize any kind of mass action under those circumstances.

Jul 26, 2019, 9:28 am

The really sad thing is that 'Nightfall' was voted "the best science fiction short story written prior to the 1965 establishment of the Nebula Awards" by the SFWA. Which tells you that most sf writers know bugger-all about writing.

Jul 26, 2019, 10:02 am

I've only read the story and not the novel, but bear in mind that 1941 wasn't that far off from the time in 1910 when there was planet-wide hysteria that a visit from Halley's Comet would end all life on Earth - "people think there will be doom from the sky, panic" and "there is good scientific evidence of doom from the sky" aren't that different in effect, and Asimov was playing on that. (he just wasn't always... great at the social science side of things.)

Jul 26, 2019, 1:00 pm

>1 Vonini: I have read this thread and nodded my head in agreement, for the most part. I own various books by Asimov, and I loved the novels very much when I read them. I was 9 years old, and it was a long, long time ago. I've reread a few of his short stories; even those are best left to memory.

There are writers who, even when the science world has moved on, can still hold my attention, as gifted and elegant authors. I love early Gene Wolfe (as an example), and Tiptree still fills my heart with joy. Asimov was fine, and his short stories are still okay, but you know, if you just want to read early authors, there's always Ray Bradbury or PKD (although he could be chancy, not everything he wrote fell into the must read category).

Jul 27, 2019, 3:20 pm

Okay, I'll just accept the fact that although the book has some cool ideas, the story itself lacks in execution. Maybe I should give the short story a try.

Thanks everyone, I thought it was just me or that I was missing something. Turns out, it was the book ;-)

Jul 27, 2019, 8:49 pm

>1 Vonini: Re Nightfall: Presumably the planet rotates, so that the night will fall over the entire planet at some point.

>3 RobertDay: Re Niven's Inconstant Moon: As I recall, he said something about massive solar activity disrupting communications. It's been years since I've read the story, but I recall it being essentially like a slow EMP.

Jul 28, 2019, 3:14 am

>15 Carnophile: Carnophile
I did not consider that, that's very plausible. Thanks, that makes so much more sense!

Jul 28, 2019, 4:05 pm

Cool, hopefully it revives your enjoyment of the novel!

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