The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The twenty stories included in Nightfall and Other Stories were selected by Isaac Asimov to compose a volume of his best short stories. They are arranged in order of original publication.

“Nightfall,” Asimov’s best-known short story and one of his first (1941, Astounding Science-Fiction), is set on the world of Lagash. A feisty reporter, Theremon 76, obtains an interview with an astronomer named Aton 77 and a psychologist named Sheerin 501. They reveal to the reporter the imminent collapse of civilization. Theremon is told that, contrary to prior scientific belief, every two thousand years a terrible darkness descends on Lagash as a result of concurrent eclipses of the planet’s suns. Immersed in complete darkness for many hours, the human population will madly set fires to diminish the darkness. Civilization will then come to an end, to be rebuilt slowly until the end of the next two-thousand-year cycle, which will bring about another darkness. The scientists hope to preserve a core of civilization in their stronghold, but crazed hordes and angry members of religious cults who wish to experience the apocalypse set out to destroy the stronghold and the scientists’ plans. The story was expanded into a 1990 novel, also titled Nightfall, coauthored by Robert Silverberg.

The inscrutability of nature is a major concern in “Flies” as well. A college science student once theorized that emotion rather than thought is the basic similarity of living things. At his twenty-year college reunion, he is questioned by two former classmates, one a serious religious-minded person and the other a cynic whose central trait is that he attracts flies. The scientist declines to explain that what he discovered so many years before was that nature assigns people starkly different temperaments. People do not change; rather, they live their lives with what is given them.

“Green Patches” is narrated by an alien being, a green patch, who has decided to save humanity. The green patches...

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Nightfall” employs the technique, often used in pulp science fiction, of having one character, usually a scientist, give out the major elements of the story to another character, usually a reporter or someone else who represents the common viewpoint. In this way, the reader can receive a large amount of information without the tedium of a formal lecture. In “Nightfall,” Sheerin furnishes for Theremon the information that is the crux of the story, because the actions of the story simply dramatize what Sheerin says will happen. Thus, the structure of “Nightfall” is like that of a lab experiment report within a highly dramatic context. This structure reinforces the main theme of the value of scientific inquiry. “Nightfall” creates suspense by exciting curiosity to know what is happening and why. “Nightfall” is a story that produces the sense of wonder that is the core of all good science fiction. This sense of wonder lifts that story above its trite dialogue, weak characterization, and numerous scientific improbabilities and justifies its place as one of the finest American science-fiction short stories.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Nightfall’’ is set on a fictional planet at an indeterminate time. Consequently, there can be no discussion of the context of the...

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Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Character
The characters in this story are not aliens with four eyes and antennae. They are human. They may have numbers for...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Nightfall's narrative structure is not particularly remarkable. Most of it is devoted to a quest for safety, with some events being...

(The entire section is 483 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Nightfall lacks the fast pacing typical of the adventure novels of Asimov and Silverberg; it is not an adventure novel in spite of its...

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Social Concerns

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

On the planet Kalgash scientists from the fields of psychology, archaeology, and astronomy have recently made discoveries that are profoundly...

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Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1941: Despite Asimov’s anti-religious assertions in ‘‘Nightfall,’’ American culture is steeped in religion, mostly...

(The entire section is 282 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Asimov was considered one of the three greatest writers of science fiction in the 1940s along with Robert Heinlein and A. E. Van Vogt. Read a...

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Related Titles

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Nightfall is based on Asimov's 1941 short story "Nightfall," but according to Asimov's memoirs, this novelization of his celebrated...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

The Best of Isaac Asimov, a collection of short stories containing ‘‘Nightfall,’’ has been recorded by Books on Tape; read by...

(The entire section is 159 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Nightfall and Other Stories is a collection that Asimov published in 1969 so that his most famous story would appear in his own...

(The entire section is 196 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Sources
Allen, L. David, ‘‘Isaac Asimov,’’ in Science Fiction Writers, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982, pp....

(The entire section is 373 words.)

Bibliography

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Goble, Neil. Asimov Analyzed. Baltimore: Mirage, 1972.

Gunn, James. Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

Hassler, Donald M. Reader’s Guide to Isaac Asimov. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont, 1991.

Moskowitz, Sam. “Isaac Asimov.” In Seekers of Tomorrow: Masters of Modern Science Fiction. Cleveland: World, 1966.

Olander, Joseph D., and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. Isaac Asimov. New York: Taplinger, 1977.

Patrouch, Joseph F. The Science Fiction of Isaac...

(The entire section is 74 words.)