Thursday, April 8, 2010

#18 Nightfall

I actually read Nightfall before I read Virtual Control but I wanted to step away from it for a little while. I wanted to step away from it because I knew this is supposed to be written by two of the greatest science fiction writers. Surely a conglomeration like that should be epic. Right? As it says in the back of the book “Isaac Asimov is the author of more than four hundred and fifty books…Robert Silverberg has written more than seventy science fiction novels…in addition to several hundred stories…Like Dr. Asimov, he is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including three Hugos and five Nebulas.” That’s some pedigree right there, am I right? So, as I was saying, I decided to step back and see if I could obtain a new perspective on the book. To see if maybe my opinion would change after some time away from it. While my opinion hasn’t completely evolved to the opposite of what it was I can appreciate the book for what it accomplished. I suppose I should also mention that the novel came about from a story written by Asimov.

The book follows, in essence, a small group of people. Beenay, a young and brilliant astronomer. Sheerin, the fat psychologist who is an expert in “darkness” and rides through the “Tunnel of Mystery.” Theremon, a top notch reporter that always finishes what he starts. Athor the godfather of astronomy and creator of “The Theory of Universal Gravitation.” Siferra a female archaeologist who uncovers the destroyed cities at the Hill of Thombo. Raissta, Beenay’s “contract-mate.” Folimun, leader of the Apostles of Flame. Each one of these people also have a number at the end of their name. The whole goddamn book I was trying to figure out why until near the end when it is states that the numbers are their “family code.” Basically their last name.

Now I realize some of those things make no sense to you and I likely won’t explain them all. Nightfall takes place on a planet called Kalgash. The planet has 6 suns in constant rotation and never experiences a moment without light (cough…Pitch Black). Once however, every two thousand and some odd years, only one sun is in the sky and that sun is eclipsed by another planet. Thus…darkness. In essence the novel is about what happens as they come to this discovery, and what happens after night.

That’s what you have to understand. Coming from a planet that has never seen darkness they have no concept of “stars.” This gets referred to several times in the book and it generally terrifies people. Especially after Beenay proposes that these stars may in fact be other suns that are far away. I didn’t give anything away there, trust me, the story is rather simple. As I states Sheerin is a psychologist who studies the effects of darkness on people. He comes to the conclusion that should darkness happen everyone on the planet would flip the fuck out. Siferra finds an ancient civilianization that provides the proof that this blackness occurs and that society is wiped out by fires. These fires are set by the inhabitants of the planet out of fear, when darkness happens. Thus…they destroy themselves. Along the way is a group called the Apostles of Flame, they are the religious group that proclaims this apocalypse long before science is able to prove it. Here is where the story really lies.

I think the main intent of this novel is an overall look at religion. The Apostles of Flame (obviously a religious sect) constantly refer to a book that they call the “Book of Revelations.” For the coming of the apocalypse they create what they call the sanctuary, which is, in essence, an ark (2012). When Beenay proposes the notion of the stars being suns and those suns having their own system of planets the question arises of other intelligent life. Naturally we hear the same arguments we have. Including the one that another planet would need oxygen for anything to survive and evolve, in the case of Nightfall they argue that they need light in order to survive. Every person has what is essentially a night light that they call a “God Light.” The overall notion is that religion is necessary for society to prevail but that the established religion must also be challenged through science. Folimun claims to be the voice for the head of the religion but that head doesn’t actually exist (Equilibrium). The end of the book follows a path of that can be adhered to the “circle of life.” People separate into tribes, the weak are eliminated, people pair off to procreate. In fact, right after the darkness four people have sex right off the bat. Two of the main characters, Theremon and Siferra, travel down the abandoned highway, fight off bandits (including cannibals), and make a great pilgrimage only to come to an even greater realization (The Road).

“They’ll burn whatever they can get. They’ve got to have light. They’ve got to burn something, and wood won’t be handy, not on city streets. So they’ll burn whatever is nearest. A pile of newspapers? Why not? What about the newsstands that the papers on sale are stacked up in? Burn them too! Burn clothing. Burn books. Burn roof-shingles. Burn anything. The people will have their light-and every center of habitation goes up in flames! There is the end of the world you used to live in.“
Why I hate it? It makes no sense. The “Tunnel of Mystery” is created to test people’s endurance to darkness. The theme park ride keeps the person in total darkness for 15 minutes. Now one of the biggest problems for people is that they can’t handle the darkness, they’re not prepared for it, that’s why they start the fire. What did they use to create this tunnel. Do they not have lights? They have computers (no monitor glow?), cars (no hazard lights?), and laser guns, but no lights? Where’s the logic there? In fact they have all of this advanced technology and yet when the darkness comes the best they can do is create what are essentially oil lamps that are considered, “Very modern. Very impressive.” They allude to lights but simply state that these will go out when the generators go out. Bah! That to me simply makes no sense, therefore the story makes no sense. A two thousand year old society with telescopes, cameras, computers, cars, and friggin laser beams but no indoor lights? Nice. Also…everyone has mass amounts of tiring dialogue. Someone should tell writers that most people do not speak for five minutes without interruption during a normal conversation.

I like the story for the writers ability to look into the future when it came to technology at the time. I liked it for its originality and potential, I liked it for its look into mass hysteria. I hated the overall outcome. Now, I will tell you that this book has one of the greatest lines I’ve ever read: “Athor was awesome and he knew it.”

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