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Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg's Nightfall Novel

Updated: Apr 10

One of the best Science Fiction books I've read to date, Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg's Nightfall shines an all-too-bright light on humanity and the depths to which it can sink in times of crisis.

Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg's Nightfall Book Cover

The Plot of Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg's Nightfall

One of the best books written by Isaac Asimov, Nightfall talks about a world that is always illuminated by at least one of six stars in a multiple star system. Asimov's Nightfall started off as a short story which was then expanded into a complete novel.

In a world where darkness is so scarce, it is actually a source of amusement and is incorporated into a rollercoaster ride. When people who start to take the ride begin to go insane, it causes concern in conjunction with the rumors of a complete eclipse of all six suns.

Asimov Nightfall

The planet is called Kalgash and it is said that once every 2000 years all six suns are eclipsed leading to the downfall of civilization. The immediate effect of the eclipse is complete anarchy and panic with people losing their minds, one community at a time, worldwide.

Religion however survives even in such a dire situation with a unique insight into similar events that have happened for several millennia. Some sects form where people pool their resources and have a rudimentary organizational hierarchy.

Archeologists on Kalgash found that every 2000 years there is a sign of a man-made fire that engulfed the whole planet. This along with the total lack of knowledge of what causes these fires will be a major plot point in this book.

Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg's Nightfall is amazing in that it captures human tendencies such as mob mentality, behavior under stress, and how people respond to authority when civilization collapses.

There is one particular scene that stuck with me where a deranged man is gleefully trotting about, singing. When he sees a man buried to his neck, the deranged person slits the other man's neck and hops along nonchalantly.

Civilization and its Collapse

I got to view group dynamics deteriorate first-hand the night when demonetization was instituted a few years ago in India. People who were calmly waiting in line for ATMs got triggered by any slight changes in the line. This was despite there being no actual emergency. My mind immediately went to Nightfall and its downfall of society.

There are a few things that you can take away from this book that are as relevant today as it was when the short story and then the novel came out.

1. Civilizations are cyclical - no civilization has stood the test of time with its people to show. There are minimal exceptions if any, for example, the Sentinel Island tribe which have lived the same way for over 40,000 years and will probably survive this iteration of our modern civilization.

2. Religion - Every civilization has had a strong foundation of religion since the dawn of time. It is just a logical way to make sense of powers beyond our control and also a focused way to channel our collective beliefs.

Religion also has the strongest set of followers and institutional frameworks. They also have the highest concentration of funds and means. This is neither good nor bad - it just makes sense that we trust the direction in which our faith lies.

3. Primed for conflict - whether it is in our DNA as a species or whether all life on Earth has some sliver of violence, conflict is in our nature. This means there will always be war, the drive for conquest, and at some point, varying levels of greed.

4. Humans crave validation - The need to distinguish yourself from other people has led to a lot of global atrocities and racial conflicts. This stems from a person's need to be better than everyone else.

5. Astronomy and Space Exploration- regardless of the geography, our ancient ancestors knew of Earth's place in the solar system. Hell, most cultures had reflecting pools to view the stars at night without straining one's neck. This means astronomy is essential for the progress of a civilization and space exploration is something they all should look into.

Should You Read This Book? Yes!

This is one of Asimov's best works and needs to be read cover to cover with minimal breaks. The book is less of science fiction and more of delving into the human psyche and what it means to all of us.


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