Nightfall (Asimov)

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Nightfall (1990), a  which Robert Silverberg produced by expanding and updating Asimov's original story
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Nightfall (1990), a novel which Robert Silverberg produced by expanding and updating Asimov's original story

Nightfall is an influential science fiction short story by author Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the September 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine under editor John W. Campbell. It was the 32nd story by Asimov, written while he was working in his father's candy store and studying in Columbia University. According to Asimov's autobiography, Campbell ordered Asimov to write the story after discussing with him a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God!

The story is set on a fictional planet, Lagash (Kalgash in the novel), located in a stellar system containing six stars. The "nightfall" of the title occurs only once every two thousand forty-nine years when the sole sun remaining above the horizon is occulted by a planetary body not directly observable to the planet's inhabitants. The impending approach of nightfall has the populace in a panic, fearing the end of their civilization.

Considered a classic of the genre, "Nightfall" has been anthologized no fewer than two dozen times, and has appeared in at least another half-dozen collections of Asimov's older stories. While frequently referred to as the best science fiction short story, not only of Asimov's but of anybody's, he said it was not his favourite (that being "The Last Question").

In the 1950s, the story was adapted on Dimension X and X Minus One, both Old-time radio programs.

In 1988, a low-budget movie was produced based upon the story. However, its script, while retaining the story's basic premise, deviated wildly from the original plot, and the film was roundly dismissed by critics and ridiculed by science fiction fans. Asimov himself disowned it. Another film version, whose fate was not any better than the first, was produced in 2000.

In 1990, two years before Asimov's death, he collaborated with author Robert Silverberg on a novel-length revision of the original story. In fifty years, much about the original—despite its classic status—had become dated both scientifically and in terms of literary style. The novel significantly expands upon and updates the original premise. It was a commercial success but received mixed reviews. One notable change between "Nightfall" the short story and Nightfall the novel is that in the short story Asimov used the simplest, least complex and misleading names for objects in the story to avoid confusing the reader with irrelevant information. (Though this seems in keeping with Asimov's generally "unornamented" style, in this case he details his logic explicitly, in the prologue printed in the collection Nightfall and Other Stories.) Silverberg's novel reverses this practice, and many seemingly-random names for things such as the suns around which the world in question moves are granted "alien" names.

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