Plot Summary for Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall"

by Cecil Fontaine

"Nightfall" is a short story written by Isaac Asimov that first appeared in a science fiction magazine in 1941 and quickly became one of Asimov's best-known works. The story discusses the reaction of an imaginary civilization that is faced with its impending destruction, represented in the story by total darkness.

Setting

Nightfall takes place on an imaginary planet called Lagash; this planet is in a solar system that contains six suns which supply the planet with a constant source of light. For this reason, its inhabitants have never seen stars (there is no night on Lagash and therefore no darkness). The story is told through dialog between several scientists that have been drawn together by a series of discoveries that indicate that their planet has undergone a civilization-destroying catastrophe every 2049 years -- the story takes place only hours before such a catastrophe is to occur.

Impending Darkness

The scientists are gathered in the observatory of Saro University to see what unfolds as their light sources no longer supply Lagash with light. The scientists have concluded that these disasters are caused by a rare eclipse which causes all six of their solar system's suns to be obstructed from view. Although the short story does not detail what happens to the planet after the eclipse, Asimov insinuates that the inhabitants of Lagash experience mass panic and, given the planet's history, the civilization destroys itself due to its fear of the unknown.

Conclusion

The scientists represent different scientific fields, including astronomy and archaeology, and have all made discoveries that predict the impending disaster; despite their discoveries, the scientists are unable to guess how the inhabitants of Lagash will react to the coming darkness. The short story concludes with the scientists marveling at the sight of the night sky lit up with millions of stars that they never knew even existed.

Novelization

This short story was expanded into a novel in 1990; this later version further discusses what happens after Lagash is condemned to darkness -- society breaks down and the inhabitants of the planet take to destroying themselves. Civilization falls apart and the inhabitants experience the same fate as their predecessors -- total destruction and disappearance from their planet's recorded history.

About the Author

Based in Colorado, Cecil Fontaine has been writing and editing since 2009, specializing in Brazilian travel guides. He received his Bachelor of Arts in political economy from the University of California, Berkeley in 2008.

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