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Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall” and our reaction to the unknown

28 Jul

I have not put a lot of time or effort into reading short stories.  However, they are certainly some of the most influential classical sci-fi pieces out there for the thoughtful reader to engage.  So, I wish to engage these classic stories, especially the ones that jump out at me, or that others have called classics.  In this post, I take one of science fiction’s pioneers classic stories.  This story is “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov, originally published in 1941

The concept of this story is that there is a world out there that is always lit up by one of 6 suns that are always crossing the planet.  Because of this, the inhabitants on this planet have never known night, or darkness.  They are inherently afraid of darkness. This fear would almost cause the entire species to disintegrate into total chaos.  Our story begins when scientists discover that the 6 suns on this world will set at the same time, and thus putting the entire planet into “Nightfall”.  This classic story has been published many times, and has even been made into an audio drama, as well as a full-length novel.

The original idea of this story explores both the nature of the unknown, as well how others react to it.  There are three influential groups that interact with one another over time.  There are the scientists, the journalist(and main protagonist), and the religious cult.  The scientists are the original ones who discover the event of “Nightfall”.  However, the religious culthad predicted the event beforehand, and was using it to convert as many as was possible.  The journalist acts as the eyes and ears of the audience, who is both skeptical, but curious.  How could this event happen?  What do the leaders plan to do about it, if it’s even real?

Asimov presents everything through his classic perspective; the scientific crowd is correct because of their analytical use of science, while the religious cults and groups are crazy, and misled.  This doesn’t remove from the story’s overall value.  The story explores how mankind explores the unknown.  One can either twist the truth (like the cult), ignore it (like the general populace in the story), or explore it further (like the scientists).

But if we have these so-called “Competing forces”, then how do we test which one is right?  Both are attempting to predict the future, but each has different explanations.  So, how do you test the ideas? Use Occam’s Razor, which simply states “whatever is the simplest conclusion is most likely the truest”.  While this isn’t applicable in all situations, it certainly is a useful tool in comparing objective, physical claims of truth.

In conclusion, Nightfall presents a great exploration of both science’s look at truth, at man’s capability for twisting the Truth, and for how one can react to the unknown.  The best way to access this story is to listen to Episode 100 of Escape Pod, which features this fantastically classic story.

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Posted by on 2011/07/28 in Literature

 

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