By Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg
Audio Edition Published by Brilliance Corporation
Read by Bill Weiderman
The original Nightfall by Isaac Asimov was one of my favorite stories when I was first getting into science fiction and when I learned that he was collaborating with Robert Silverberg to expand the story into a novel, I was skeptical. I did not think Silverberg’s Hawksbill Station really improved much for its expansion. It was just… longer.
However, that was not the case with Nightfall. The original story was a concept piece about a fictional world in a stellar system with six suns so that there is always at least one or two suns in the sky except for once every two thousand years or so when due to a rare alignment and an equally rare eclipse night suddenly falls.
The story examines what might happen to people who have never experienced true darkness before. In the short story, the concept is proposed and briefly discussed, but the consequences that followed the nightfall were left unexplored, although they were hinted at.
In contrast the novel adds characters, changes the name of the planet and the suns and gives us a lot more background of the characters and the culture they live in. Robert Silverberg’s experience in anthropology and archaeology also shows through in the expanded story. Also the novel shows us what happens during the night and when day returns.
It is a fascinating concept and one that has been adapted to other media (radio plays, record albums, two low-budget movies and even a podcast. It is a shame about the movies, though. I have copies of them both and neither does justice to the story. The story, itself, has been parodied and subject to literary debate by other authors, but it has also, with some justification been called the one of the greatest SF stories every written.
The novel takes place on the planet Kalgash (Lagash in the original story) where various scientists are Saro University are making discoveries in diverse fields that turn out to be intimately related. Sheerin 501 is a psychologist studying the effects of exposure to darkness, Beenay 25 is an astronomer who has discovered irregularities in the orbit of Kalgash and Siferra 89 is an archaeologist who has discovered a cycle of building and destruction on an important site that is mysteriously regular – once every two thousand years or so (actually it turns out to be 2049 years). Meanwhile Beenay has a friend, Theremon 762, who is a reporter, and he has learned of an obscure cult that believes the world is about to be destroyed – that darkness will come and with it will come the stars from which fire will rain down on the world… or something like that.
It all comes together of course and with totally darkness the people of Kalgash go crazy. The fires seem to be lit by confused people who are mostly just trying to keep the darkness away in a logical, but wrong-headed manner. When dawn comes back at last, most people recover their wits eventually, although some never do and the world that was is no more.
The rest of the story goes into the beginning of how the world would be rebuilt.
The only part I did not like was the authors’ foreword in which they long-windedly went on and on about how this is a fictional world and that the people aren’t really human and they do not speak English, nor do they measure miles the same way we do and so forth. I found that whole section rather insulting and condescending. Did they think I would believe they were describing a real world? It was certainly insulting that they thought they should mention that the people of that fictional world would be really be speaking the same language I do and it really was not necessary to point out that a Kalgashian mile was a different length from an Earthly one.
In all, this is a really good story and another on my pile of “Must reads.” Well, I have read it a few times, but if you have not read it yet, I highly recommend it.
Bill Weiderman does an acceptable job of reading the story, although I was more than a little put off by all the emotion he put into the words. Just a little too much emotion, which, while much better than a flat and unemotional monotone, had me constantly wondering why he was so excited. It was a little tiring to listen too really.
However, Mister Weiderman is a very talented reader with a vast repertoire of voices to call upon. Admittedly some of them as what I frequently refer to as “Funny voices.” In this case it means raspy voices with a strange edge to them, but not every character speaks that way so that part is not quite overdone.
Reading that way might have ruined the story, but I think the story is too good to be ruined that way and Mister Weiderman’s reading is not really all that bad (I did call it acceptable, after all) so if this is your sort of story I am sure you will enjoy listening to it when read this way.
So, Nightfall is a great story and Bill Weiderman reads it fairly well. Haven’t read or heard this one yet? Quick, get yourself to a bookstore or a library!