Written by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg.
Published by Bantam Books.
Nightfall, published in 1990, is based upon a short story by the same name, published by Isaac Asimov in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941. A mere 277 pages long, Nightfall reads like a larger book.
The planet Kalgash has six suns, arrayed in such a way that there are usually at least two suns in the sky over our society and sometimes up to five. But never none. Saro City, the home of Our Heroes, is never dark. Never. Thus the dilemma--what to do when a cult claims that a time of Darkness is coming, when the suns will all be gone, Darkness will descend upon the world, and dangerous things called "Stars" will come out, raining fire down upon a maddened world? Beenay, the astronomer, has discovered some mathematical facts that seem to corroborate the story of the cult, and Siferra, an archeologist, has discovered that the oldest known settlement on their planet was destroyed by fire periodically. Could the cult be right? In a world where it is never dark, and people die of fright being in the Darkness for mere minutes, how would they handle real nightfall?
In a society with its own share of Armageddon cults and doomsday prophecies, the story of Nightfall is interesting to today's readers. The tension between religious fundamentalism, and fundamentalism's effects upon society, and science is also interesting, as is the eventual idea that religion and science do not need to be at odds at all. Another theme is how various individuals handle trauma in different ways; it is all well and good to say that you are strong enough to handle the fear that destroys other's minds, but how do you really know? A central question of Nightfall seems to be who will you become if the world as you knew it fell apart?
In a short novel with a largish cast of characters, it is difficult to develop all of the characters in depth. Nightfall, however, manages to develop the characters at least enough to make them interesting and for the reader to care what happens to them. They are distinct mostly for the roles they are enabled to play in the unfolding drama of the book, but they are also separate people, with varying ways of dealing with the terrors before them, including the mass hysteria of the populace.
Fans of science fiction will be pleased with the level of science in the book--advanced enough to tell the society something about their coming catastrophe, but not advanced enough to prevent it. Combining aspects of archeology, psychology, physics, sociology, and mathematics, there's something here for everyone. Fans of post-apocalyptic fiction like myself might be a wee bit disappointed in the scarcity of much detail about the post-Darkness world, but the world is there; you just have to imagine a lot of it for yourself. Fans of adventure stories will also have some plot details to satisfy them.
One small advisement: religious readers or readers who know much about religion in our world should be aware that all religious characters in the book are portrayed as part of the Apostles cult. There does not seem to be any differentiation between religious people in the world of Kalgash, and if you're a scientist, you apparently can't believe in any deity/deities. Try not to let this irritate you.
All in all, Nightfall is a good book that does a nice job of creating tension and making the reader care about the characters. It may be a bit of a stretch for people on a planet like ours to really sympathize with Kalgash's pathological fear of darkness, but anyone with any phobias or even a fear dictated by evolution will at least understand how they must feel, and certainly all of us have seen the horrors of runaway mobs and what happens when normally sane individuals find all of their rules suddenly removed.
Review submitted by Dindrane.
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