Book Review: Nightfall (1991) by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

First, I must confess my guilty pleasure:  I love pulp fiction!  There’s something about the writing of John D. MacDonald, Robert Bloch, and early Asimov that I find irresistible.  So, know that I’m not going to bash this book because of some dislike of Asimov.  I loved Nemesis (maybe I’ll review it here someday) and the Robot series is awesome!

But Nightfall was a tough one for me.  It is about a planet that has never known sunsets–it has six suns.  The major plot point is that all the suns will set at the same time for the first time in recorded history.  People who have never known darkness experience it and it drives individuals, and the society in which they live, mad.  While it sounds like an interesting premise, I feel there’s a huge hole in the plot.  Does no one on this planet have a basement?  They’ve never built a root cellar?  Or gone caving?  What happens when they close their eyes?  My wife says I’m being pedantic and that this is a novel of ideas and the idea of the primal darkness is what Asimov and Silverberg are going for here.  I just can’t see it.  Besides–the sunsets?  It’s only for twelve or so hours!  You mean we can’t wait this thing out?

I like the idea of people who have never known dark encountering it.  But this idea sounds a lot better than the complicated plot, the overly dramatic characters and stilted dialogue (never Asimov’s strong suit).  The darkness occurs midway through the novel; leaving the last third for wrapping up earlier plot points and it just draaaags.  Had they stopped the novel at the darkness–it could have been a cool thought experiment.  As it stands, there are a lot of characters who re-emerge on the far side of the dark catastrophe and, I’ve got to be honest, it’s hard to care about what happened.

What to listen to when reading this book:  You know, there is a surprising lot of rock written about outer space.  Mr. Roboto, Gary Numan, Sufjan Stevens, The Pixies.  But I’ve got to go with the classic here.  David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust.


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