Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1714
Nightfall lacks the fast pacing typical of the adventure novels of Asimov and Silverberg; it is not an adventure novel in spite of its adventure structure, featuring the struggle of a few sane people to reach safety. It is instead another kind of novel Asimov frequently wrote, an "idea" or "concept" novel. Science fiction often focuses on an idea that it explores. Characterization and plot are often subordinated to the theme — or main idea — of the story. Nightfall is plainly a study of the effects of a revolutionizing new view of the universe upon people who are utterly unprepared for it. In this, Nightfall examines a phenomenon that has occasionally occurred in earthly cultures. For instance, the landing of men on the moon had a stunning effect on people; there were numerous reports at the time of suicides by people who simply could not live with the idea that people could leave the earth and walk on other planetary bodies. Some national governments even withheld the news of the moon landings from their people for years after the events. Einstein's theories of relativity had a revolutionizing effect on the physical sciences, but they were so hard to understand that they did not fall on people as sudden revelations the way the moon landings did; they took time to absorb. Another revolutionizing theory was that of natural selection, as proposed by Charles Darwin. His explanation of evolutionary processes in the development of species established evolution as the overwhelmingly dominant scientific explanation for how life on earth developed to its present state. From 1859, when Origin of Species was published, to the present, some people have refused to accept any form of evolution as fact; it is still forbidden to by taught in the schools of some countries. Creationism is a religious explanation of how life on earth became what it is now; creationists argue that a supreme being made all living things; they assert that ail life is the product of deliberate action rather than by the accident of natural forces. Because creationism is usually associated with religion and natural selection is associated with science, religion and science have been made to seem to be in constant conflict. The militant atheism of some advocates of the theory of natural selection — such as Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov — has only exacerbated the antagonism between some religious leaders and some scientists. Since 1859, the change in world view that natural selection implies has been one that many people have simply refused to accept, or perhaps they simply cannot accept it. This sort of conflict may have inspired the religion versus science conflict of Nightfall. The battle between world views is fought out publicly in the press of Kalgash, much as the battle between creationism and natural selection is fought in the American press.
The situation in Nightfall differs in one significant way from the battles between science and religion in the modern world. The fall of night is utterly irrefutable proof that the view of the universe held dear by most people on Kalgash is completely wrong. The change in world views is immediate and unstoppable. Asimov and Silverberg take the view presented in Asimov's original short story that such a stunning revelation would drive people mad. What they do in Nightfall is compress the effects of a change in world view; they condense the madness. By creating an extreme case of sudden revelation, they are able to explore in the space of a novel what the effects are upon people and society when people's understanding of the physical world changes. Perhaps the most important point they make in their exploration of their main idea is that it is important to people to have a clear understanding of who they are in relation to the rest of physical reality. Take...
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