(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The stories in this collection display a variety of human problems from a futuristic perspective, yet they are similar in the examination of human strengths and weaknesses. “Nightfall” illustrates people’s apparent insignificance and impotence in the face of an unknown universe. It illustrates how people resist change and view rational explanations of phenomena as threats to previous interpretations. In so doing, the story powerfully illustrates how self-destructive and irrational human beings can be through the power of their own fears and insecurities. In other stories, Asimov explores a host of other human weaknesses, for example, the human failure of greed in “Sally.” Naïve thinking is another flaw that often is corrected in Asimov’s stories.

A second major thematic element in the stories is the delineation of more positive, inspirational human qualities. “In a Good Cause” presents two kinds of hero—a naïve, idealistic radical and a quiet, even Machiavellian observer of human nature. The story employs a familiar Asimov device, the juxtaposition of a naïve character with a sternly realistic one. The naïve character, who in Asimov’s stories frequently is the focal point early on, develops a line of thinking (usually false) and in so doing creates tension between himself and the realist, whose ideas are seen only in fragments until the very end. The result is intensification of suspense for the reader. The usefulness and limitations of machines is another important aspect of several stories, including “The Machine That Won the War,” “Sally,” and “Nobody Here But.”

The stories present a fairly complex definition of human character and an examination of the mixed blessing that technology provides. Asimov employs a detailed knowledge of science in order to reveal his understand-ing of human nature. His stories elicit wonder and curiosity through the seamless depiction of future worlds as they present a definition of the Asimov hero—realistic, often quiet with a steely resolve, and with a heart inclined to sentiment in times of peace.