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...

(The entire section is 832 words.)