(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Theremon 762 is trying to get an interview from Aton 77 regarding the collapse of civilization, which Aton and his colleagues at the university have predicted will occur in a few hours’ time. After some hesitation, Aton agrees to give Theremon the interview. This interview, with several digressions and interruptions, forms the bulk of the story. The first interruption is the entrance of Sheerin 501, a fat, jovial psychologist, who actually provides most of Theremon’s information. He has just come from the Hideout, a refuge where some three hundred people with food, weapons, and scientific data will wait out the coming disaster and try to preserve the planet Lagash’s civilization.

As Sheerin explains, civilization on Lagash is cyclic. Every two thousand years, something happens that causes the existing civilization to be destroyed by fire, from which a new order has to be rebuilt slowly. The “Book of Revelations” of a religious organization, the Cult, claims that periodically a great darkness engulfs Lagash and then things called Stars appear in the sky that cause men to go mad. In the current scientific age, this theory is largely discredited, but Aton and other members of Sara Observatory have been claiming for the past few months that such an event will occur. They have constructed the Hideout and are now preparing to record the coming of the Darkness for the use of the refugees.

The major difference between Isaac Asimov’s planet Lagash and Earth is that Lagash orbits around a star that is part of a complex system of six stars. Regularly alternating nights and days are unknown on Lagash because there is almost always at least one sun in the sky. Lagash’s scientists have only recently analyzed this situation, beginning four hundred years previously, when Genovi discovered that Lagash orbited the star Alpha, replacing the older geocentric cosmology. Since then,...

(The entire section is 779 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Asimov had been publishing stories for two years before he got his first story featured on the cover of Astounding Science Fiction. “Nightfall” was recognized almost immediately as a classic and represented a validation of the author’s place in science fiction. When the first volume of the Science Fiction Writers of America’s The Science Fiction Hall of Fame was published, “Nightfall” got more votes than any other story. Asimov looked back ruefully on the plaudits, because he felt he wrote better stories later. Nevertheless, when he incorporated himself, he chose the name of “Nightfall, Inc.”

The story was suggested by Campbell, who quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement in Nature (1836): “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.” And he asked Asimov what he thought would happen. “I don’t know,” Asimov said. “I think they would go mad,” Campbell said. “I want you to write a story about that.”

Asimov made the story’s daytime period 2,049 years (roughly comparable to the time between the height of the Roman Empire and the present, or between Greek democracy and Sir Isaac Newton). He invented (less plausibly) a planet, Lagash, with six suns so that one was never out of the sky, except in predictable situations in which all the suns but one were on the opposite side...

(The entire section is 477 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Nightfall’’ is a story about a planet that does not experience nightfall except once in every 2,049 years. With six suns, Lagash...

(The entire section is 647 words.)