A wonderful “What if…?” kind of story – “Nightfall” [Book Review]

Nightfall 1990 edition

by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

  • First Publication Date: 1990
  • Kindle Edition: Spectra (November 9, 2011)
  • Print Length: 339 pages
  • My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Imagine a parallel universe, in which we lived in a planet that had six suns instead of one. A planet where at least one sun is always visible in the sky, a place where it never gets dark. A planet without night. What would happen if all of a sudden, an eclipse occurs and for the first time in thousands of years the whole planet is unexpectedly dark? Moreover, what if we didn’t know that the sky is filled with stars at night?

Would we be surprised at the day of the eclipse, enjoy the dark sky filled with stars and think how wonderful it is or would we become terrified and loose our sanity?

“Nightfall” is a wonderful “What if…?” kind of story, in which the worse scenario is told, leaving us wondering about the consequences of a total unpredicted change in our scientific beliefs regarding our solar system. In addition, discussing how a powerful religion organization could benefit from this situation, and how it could influence and control people’s beliefs.

The book starts telling us about an archaeologist, a scientist, a psychologist and a newspaperman. Slowly, their stories and discoveries connect with each other, converging to the main plot. The imminent threat of total darkness in the planet!

He understood the Darkness syndrome. That would protect him, he was sure: his understanding. Even though all of mankind had an instinctive fear of the absence of light, that did not mean that the absence of light was of itself harmful. What was harmful, Sheerin knew, was one’s reaction to the absence of light. The thing to do is to stay calm. Darkness is nothing but darkness, a change of external circumstances. We are conditioned to abhor it because we live in a world where darkness is unnatural, where there is always light, the light of the many suns.

It was a very delightful read, I loved the characters and the ideas explored in the story. There are fun dialogs like this one:

Let’s say there’s an invisible seventh sun out there — it’s got mass, it exerts gravitational force, but we simply can’t see it. Since we don’t know it’s there, we haven’t plugged it into our gravitational calculations, and so the figures come out cockeyed. Is that what you mean?” “Well, why not?” “Why not five invisible suns, then? Why not fifty? Why not an invisible giant who pushes planets around according to his whims? Why not a huge dragon whose breath deflects Kalgash from its proper path? We can’t disprove it, can we? When you start in with why nots, Theremon, anything becomes possible, and then nothing makes any sense.

The ending was okay, leaving me thinking that humanity always takes the same paths, and the history tends to repeat itself from time to time, no matter what we do. Yes, that was the message of the book for me. Deep inside, I was hoping for something more extraordinary, but I think I understood the point of the authors.

It’s a nice light science fiction discussing science, social breakdown/organization and religion in one package. I gave it 4 stars just because the ending didn’t reach to my expectations, but that is just me.

Note: Nightfall is a 1941 short story by Isaac Asimov that was adapted into a novel with Robert Silverberg in 1990.

What did you think? If you liked this post, please recommend it!

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(Text originally posted here)

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