One of the great things about Issac Asimov is his prolific body of work. This means there will probably be no shortage of material for #VintageSciFiMonth featuring Asimov in my lifetime. I’ve read Asimov since my teens and it looks like I won’t soon run out of new (to me) stuff to read.
And while I’ve read a good portion of his longer works, I’ve not sampled as many of his short stories as I should or could. So, this year for #VintageSciFiMonth, I decided to dip into his prolific short story output with the collection Nightfall and Other Stories. Over the course of the next month, I will be offering up my thoughts on the stories from the collection as I read through.
Nightfall (1949): Five stars
Asimov prefaces this story by saying that many consider it to be his best story and that while it was anthologized elsewhere he had never included it in one of his collections. Fifty-plus years later, “Nightfall” is the selling point of this collection and it’s interesting that Asimov puts it upfront instead of making us wait until the end to read it.
The planet Lagesh has multiple suns, meaning that people of this world are rarely without light. Once every two thousand or so years, the suns all set, sending the society of that work into chaos and ruin since the mere concept of a sky without at least one sun in it sends much of the population into madness. As the story opens, it’s a few hours from the last sun setting and civilization as we know it ending.
In many ways, this feels like Asimov trying on some of the concepts he will later explore in his Foundation novels. There’s a society on the brink of chaos, facing a coming dark age with a group of learned scientists who attempt to preserve some of the civilization and its learning in a secret location. “Nightfall” shows us the beginning of the fall of the Lagesh civilization and the madness that comes when people who have never missed light are deprived of it.
As with a lot of Asimov, this story features a lot of characters sitting around and having deep conversations about what’s unfolding. And yet, there is still a bit of action as the sun slowly sets and people dread the coming of the mysterious objects known as stars. The world-building for a short story is nothing short of remarkable and the growing sense of dread is palpable.
It’s easy to see why many consider this one of, if not the, best Asimov short stories.
The story was expanded to a novel with the help of Robert Silverburg in 1990. I’ve read that book but don’t recall much about it. I may have to dip into it again this year.
“Green Patches”: Four stars
The second expedition to Saybrook’s Planet wants to determine why the initial expedition destroyed itself after sending back one final message. Turns out the planet’s life is all part of one organism with a unified consciousness. This consciousness wants to help organize the chaos is that is humanity and Earth.
Everything lives in balance with the plans producing enough food for consumption and being allowed to thrive. Biological lifeforms that have been fertilized by the planet are known by the green patches in the place of eyes.
The story is a bit of a race against time to keep a rogue lifeform from getting to Earth and taking over the planet. But the concept of a world where everything is in perfect balance is one that intrigues me. Reading this, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the Borg on Star Trek and Mary Doria Russell’s superb The Sparrow.
While this one isn’t as strong as “Nightfall,” it’s still pretty solid and one I really enjoyed.