November challenge continues apace...
This was a treasured read from many years ago, so when I managed to get agreement to put a Sci-Fi book onto the reading list at Book Club this was the one I had to suggest. It’s easily accessible to readers new to SF, and is based on Asimov’s 1941 original short story, one of the best examples of SF ever written.
Short Synopsis: Kalgash is a planet with 6 suns. It’s stellar orbit lasts a little over 2000 years and it is never completely in the dark. The story starts with three apparently separate threads which converge together about half way through the novel. There is a psychologist studying the effects of a new theme park ride through a dark tunnel; an archaeologist survives a sandstorm which reveals evidence of multiple layers of past civilisations and their regular destruction; and a scientist realises that the standard calculation of the stellar orbit of Kalgash isn’t quite right. You can probably surmise what happens when all three threads finally meet.
Though the 1941 short story is highly praised, unfortunately the version expanded on by Robert Silverberg was not so well received. Asimov’s short story has its major impact in its brevity, having to be faster paced and punchier. However I think the novel expands in areas I felt lacking in the shorter version. It’s not perfect by any means, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The themes of science vs religion, the exploration of fear of the unknown and our relative smallness in the universe were well portrayed and despite its alien world setting, it is highly transferable to our own society.
The response from the book club was mixed, which can be hard to take when you love the book that some people just didn’t get. It was well received by some but those that turned up tended towards mockery of the plot and the science. I suppose we have the benefit of 21st century knowledge over the original 70+ year old story, and the parts that were pulled apart were the parts expanded upon by Silverberg. Asimov’s concepts were acknowledged as very good though, which I suppose is something :-)
I read this for the first time not long after publication of the extended novel, about 20 years ago, and it endured with me for one particular scene. The scene describes the astronomer Beenay handing out cameras to his team instructing them to photograph the stars. He instructs them not to waste time trying to get more than a few stars in each photo. Of course when the darkness finally comes the sheer number of stars is overwhelming, and the ridiculous notion of there only being a handful of stars is realised.
I was lucky enough once to be in the Australian outback at night, and though I had seen photos of a full-on starry sky, it still didn’t prepare me for the spectacle that is the Milky Way. It brought back the memory of that moment in the book where they begin to realise the magnitude of the universe. Now every time I look at a starry sky that moment pops into my head. I imagine that will be with me for the rest of my days.
So, Nightfall has it’s pitfalls, but it’s still an entertaining read overall. I would certainly read the short story version at least! It is available on the internet and I think you can download it free of charge from a number of sources.