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EP100: Nightfall

By Isaac Asimov.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, September 1941.

“Of the six suns, only Beta is left in the sky. Do you see it?”

The question was rather unnecessary. Beta was almost at zenith, its
ruddy light flooding the landscape to an unusual orange as the brilliant
rays of setting Gamma died. Beta was at aphelion. It was small; smaller than
Theremon had ever seen it before, and for the moment it was undisputed ruler
of Lagash’s sky.

Lagash’s own sun, Alpha, the one about which it revolved, was at the
antipodes, as were the two distant companion pairs. The red dwarf Beta — Alpha’s immediate companion — was alone, grimly alone.

Aton’s upturned face flushed redly in the sunlight. “In just under four
hours,” he said, “civilization, as we know it, comes to an end. It will do
so because, as you see, Beta is the only sun in the sky.” He smiled grimly.
“Print that! There’ll be no one to read it.”

Rated G. Contains some violence and apocalyptic themes.

Comments (50)

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  1. Mike says:

    Wow, that was fantastic. Thanks, Steve. It’s such a great story and you did it justice. Well done.

  2. […] Sullivan. Today, 100 weeks later, April 5, 2007, Escape Pod has published it’s 100th story: Isaac Asimov’s wonderful “Nightfall”. In-between were 98 stories by both new and established authors, all delivered conveniently to […]

  3. Congratulations on Episode 100, and many happy returns of the order of magnitude!

    Or something like that, anyway. Thanks so much for releasing so much high-quality fiction.

  4. Lee Cherolis says:

    And I also congratulate you on episode 100. Thank you for so many great stories.

  5. Aaron Smith says:

    You said you were doing something special for the 100th story, and you weren’t kidding! Mr. Eley, you continue to impress me with the quality of the short fiction you give away for free every week.

  6. Lar says:

    I’ve been reading SF for a long time. I’m not sure how, but this was my first exposure to this story. One word: awesome!

    Thanks for bring it to us, and all the other wonderful stories, week after week. Happy 100th!

  7. Matt says:

    Excellent choice for your 100th. While it’s great to have a reading of the story, I would also highly recommend listing to the “X Minus 1″ radio drama version. It’s easily the best of the many dramatizations of “Nightfall”. It’s available on the Spaceship Radio website.

  8. DKT says:

    Congrats on hitting the 100 mark. Great story pick this week — I’ve actually never heard/read it before. Thanks for the stories!

  9. Rob Munro says:

    Why is this the best science fiction story of all time? Why is it even a good story? It’s flat and mechanical. The characters are just sticks to prod ideas around.

    I have this same reaction to most, if not all, of Dr. Asimov’s work. The same goes for Robert Silverberg—and both are SFWA grand masters. What the hell do I know?

    I can add Peers Anthony to the list as well. The general rule I’ve noticed over the years is: the more prolific an author is, the less likely I am to like their work.

    Steve, you put a lot of passion in to your reading. It was a fine performance, even if I don’t care for the material. You obviously care a great deal about the story and Escape Pod. I wish you had an army of clones. I’ve been waiting for an audio magazine like this all my life.

    900 and counting to EP 1 000
    Only 17.3 years to go!

    Onward!

    Rob Munro
    Durham, NC

  10. Japester says:

    I thought it was a great story for #100. I really like the original short version; I thought the novel was unnecessary.

    It is undisputedly a classic.

  11. Waparius says:

    I liked the original version back when I read it in high school, but Asimov’s style was never the best part. Somehow or other your reading changed that and made it [i]work[/i]. Now I like it even more.

  12. Paul Cole says:

    Great job as usual! The good Doctor would be please with your efforts I am sure of it. This one goes into my personal favorite reads!

  13. Wes Brummer says:

    What a coup, Steve. I really enjoy Golden Age SF. To get it in audio is a rarity. Stories like Leinster’s “Exploration Team” or Keyes’s “Flowers for Algernon” were what turned me onto SF as a kid. I don’t have a clue on what hoops a podcaster would have to jump through, but a vintage SF podcast seems like a natural.

    Please sir, give me more.

    Wes
    Topeka, KS

  14. Janni says:

    Perfect choice for episode 100. :-)

    Even if it did, actually, on this “reread,” remind me about all that never did work for me about golden age SF–a world in which men do all the work of the world, women are mostly needed only as breeders, scientists don’t feel emotions when they truly focus on their work, and idea trumps character every time.

    We’ve come a long way since then, and I can’t say I’m sorry. :-)

    Congratulations on 100 episodes. You’ve been doing good stuff. And we’ve all been having fun listening to it.

  15. Brian says:

    Excellent choice and excellently read…definitely an escape pod I’ll listen to over and over again.

    Thanks Steve!

  16. Philip says:

    I have to agree with Rob (#9). I like the story well enough, and you read it wonderfully, but since I first read it in my pre-teens, I’ve always gotten stuck on some points: Why does everyone’s name have a number? In 2049 years no one ever had to go into an interior room? How did they develop the photographic plates without a darkroom? There are caves on Legash; no one ever explored them? Are there no blind people on Legash? Don’t they close their eyes?

  17. Great choice for #100. This is one of my all-time favourite SF stories. And somehow, I had forgotten that it is from Asimov.

    And as a reply to a few of the comments here:
    Of course, there are flows in some parts of the story; of course you can prove the author wrong on many many points‚Ķ But my say is this: while looking for imperfections in the individual trees, you’re totally missing the forest!

    Also, Asimov was one of the first SF authors I ever read and if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have been attracted to SF. And I read most of his work as a child and a teenager. A child, of course, will never care for the imperfections in the story that some of the commenters are noting. So we should probably be a bit children in this way and accept those imperfections just as part of the world in which the story lives. And then we should be a bit adults and think about the story that’s being told.

  18. Earl Newton says:

    Steve -

    Excellent job. Although I, too, have found that Asimov’s stories tend to be plots with mechanical characters (perhaps that’s why “I, Robot” worked so well? ;), I thought you fleshed out a lot of the heart of the story in your narration.

    You are as inspiring as always.

  19. Susanna says:

    That was lovely Steve, really!

    I agree with most of the comments about flawed logic (or rather pragmatics, in some cases) though, and would like to add, that if being scared of the dark/closed off places is something people are born with, how can children up till the age of 6 be immune? I might have missed something though.

    Basically, I agree with Ventzi Zhechev about looking at individual trees in forests, but… Well, Asimov seems to like logic himself, so I expect it from him.

    In the end, it doesn’t really matter though. It’s a great story, a fantastic reading: Steve, you really do voices well, and with feeling!

    All in all: I loved it.

  20. Earl Newton says:

    Susanna -

    Actually, I agreed with that sentiment completely…until I realized that the story does not take place on Earth. The characters are aliens, I believe.

    I say that because, at one point in the story, do they not hypothesize about the terrifying possibility of living on a planet with a single sun, where the world would be half-coated in darkness every half-day?

  21. Well played, Steve, both on the securing the material and the reading performance.

    I personally don’t have too many problems with the suppposed flaws of logic. It seems that people are applying our standards of what is normal progress and behaviour to another planet and another race.

  22. Andrew says:

    I hadn’t heard this story before either, and it was a great listen as I drove home this afternoon. I’m still chewing over some of the ideas behind it. I can appreciate that the golden-age style grates with some people, but I personally have no complaints – I wish my science textbooks had given such clear explanations of reasonably complex ideas!

    Congrats on the #100th episode!

  23. Great story…I really enjoyed your reading of it.

    Congrats on reaching the century mark. That’s a big milestone.

    You have another subscriber!

  24. Paul Gilbert says:

    Thank you for reading “Nightfall”. It’s good to hear the story and reminding myself how good of a read it was way back then.

    I look forward to the story you will read for issue 200, plus everyone in between.

  25. Daniel says:

    You bring Asimov to life like only a few could. I am awed by how well you are voice-acting, and how well the constriction and fear of the characters became gradually more and more apparrent.

    Seems like 100 Episodes reading stories does this to people — good luck on the next 100, Steve. I’ll be listening to them.

  26. Daniel says:

    PS: I have one question that is totally off-topic: Are you the Steve Eley who wrote a description of the Invisible Pink Unicorn some time ago, that is being quoted on all the explanatory sites about the religion? If yes, congratulations. I am already a Pastafarian and bound to my religion, but if ’twere different, I’d join the Unicornists in a heartbeat :)

  27. SFEley says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Yes, that’s me. Before EP that little quote was my one claim to fame. >8->

  28. Loz says:

    Congratulations to all the Escape Artists staff on reaching the big one -oh -oh. As long as you keep up the good work you’ve got my attention, and my donations, when I can make them, for the next nine hundred episodes.

    That said, I’m not a big fan of this story. I remember a much shorter story that Mr Asimov did about exactly why the Abrahamic religions have texts that insist the universe was created in six days, which I haven’t been able to find for years. I don’t have a problem with the basic idea behind a number of Mr Asimov’s stories, like this one, but when he tries to justify it, my suspension of disbelief crumbles, just because all the suns in the sky disappear and it’s a rare event, that shouldn’t be the cause for planetary hysteria and, by trying to explain away why it is, Mr Asimov draws attention to how silly the idea is. Do people on this world have panic attacks every time they blink? What if they go blind, or need surgery to correct a defect of the cornea?

    That said, are there a number of different versions of the short version of this story, because I don’t remember all of the details Steve read from the last time I read the story, though that was many years ago. And even if I didn’t enjoy the story I did enjoy Steve’s narration.

  29. parrisj says:

    Hey thanks for the great story. I was just wondering if you paid the standard fee for it or was it a one time splurge? Anyways I hope that this bring some extra credit with big authors.

  30. Francis O'Donovan says:

    Great choice for story #100. Though I’m biased. Dr. Asimov was my introduction to Sci-Fi, and is my favorite and most read author. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard your choice for story #100. Thanks!

  31. Tim says:

    Kind of glad to see I’m not the only one who isn’t in love with Golden Age Science Fiction, I find some of it boring and uninteresting, but others, like this story, full of logical flaws yet I can’t help but love.
    This story sort of covered everything didn’t it? Knocks and religion, science, mob mentally, and the realization that we’re really, really small. I’m sure in 1941 all those ideas were pretty new and I can see why this story is so very well loved. It won’t be one I’ll forget anytime soon, I’ll tell you that much.

    Happy 100 EP, can’t wait to see what you have planned for 1000!

  32. James says:

    Wow. I never thought I’d read such a thrilling or thought provoking story about a sunset. Thanks Steve. Can’t wait for the next 100.

  33. john says:

    I recently re-read the beloved “Foundation” books and found them to be, dated. Much like this story. There is lots of flawed things. For example “losing everything” between cycles. Right. And what of broadcasting? Weren’t there stories telling people what was coming up, how to behave, why they should prepare? Wouldn’t the scientists figure out that writing on rocks was a sure way to preserve data. What about burying books? Maybe it’s the 1950’s point of view clogging the thinking.

  34. Roland says:

    Steve, congratulations on episode 100. Asimov was among the first authors I discovered in my youth that set me down the path of being a fan of SF. Thanks for your efforts to share these stories with us.

  35. Will says:

    Great story, I listened to it in the car twice and then at home– couldn’t wait for it to finish.

    How interesting to hear it today (4/23) and then read the obituary in the NYT of E. Dorrit Hoffleit ( http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/23/nyregion/23hoffleit.html?ref=obituaries ). Ms. Hoffleit was well known in the field (according to the obit) for cataloging the “bright stars”, i.e. the roughly 11,700 stars that can be seen with the naked eye. She died at age 100 and was professionally active until last year.

  36. Samantha says:

    Would it be bad-form to make any parallels about peak-oil or global warming here? Why is it that people looking for an apocalypse are unsatisfied when they find it.

    I’ve often wondered if this story was in a way about WWII. Watching events unfold must have been horrifying, especially to one who’s family was jewish. A world gone mad indeed.

  37. I just wanted to say that agree with Rob. Although Asimov creates fantastic alien settings, they’re usually flawed if you’re not a child. (Like anime.) I also agree that the characters are weak….I’ve never finished an Issac Asimov book because I always get turned off part way through. I wish he’d have just written a few books and made them perfect instead of spurning out hundreds of mediocre stories.

  38. Ethernight says:

    I found this story to effect me powerfully, in a way that very few stories have.

    Many people have commented on logical flaws in the story. For me, I found that in the beginning, I found many things about the story hard to swallow. However, as it unfolded, I found myself, like the reporter, being convinced of my own naivety, and swept away by the feeling that great minds understood far more than I did.

    While I can still come up with things that don’t quite fit, (so, this entire race never lived in rooms without windows?) I can mostly chalk it up to the true alienness of the world in the story.

    This story has returned to my thinking again and again. It left me with a new sense of wonder for the night sky — something that I had no small amount of wonder for previously. Thank you for sharing.

  39. […] recently I found myself listening to a reading of Nightfall by Isaac Asimov. This is a fabulous story that I’ve read many, many times. But the slower pace and forced […]

  40. […] blazingly, blindingly bright, day and night? Sort of an extension of Asimov’s famous story, “Nightfall.” Imagine how different our concept of our universe might be then!), many of which appear likely to […]

  41. Harris says:

    Brilliant
    So dark
    So sutle
    So…timeless

  42. Anonymous Coward says:

    “When it is darkest, men see the stars.”

    – Emerson

    Great story! :)

  43. 3v says:

    now doing a thousand word essay on Asimov for school. Thanks for the inspriration!

  44. […] Several online polls like this one, say that the best ever science fiction short story written was Nightfall by Issac Asimov. Until it was recently came down to second place so that the story called […]

  45. Sarah says:

    Brilliant!

    That last line “Print that! They’ll be nobody to read it!” is haunting and fantastic.

    Thanks for posting it.

  46. Mel says:

    Sci-fi is more than just laser swords and spaceships. It is about characters and drama set in a futuristic world. The reason why Nightfall is beyond brilliant and exciting was because the characters and worldbuilding are perfection incarnate. It is a “True drama” not just sci-fi fluff with a few extra gimmicks sprinkled about as an afterthought and cool effect.

    I read this story cover to cover in one day. It did have a nice long reign as #1, but I have to agree that Ender’s game is better. But a 50 year run ain’t bad. Especially given that it was written in 1940s.

  47. hermy says:

    thank you :) you spared my eyes ;D

  48. laleh says:

    how could i have the original short story? could you give a hint?

  49. […] with classics. For instance, you’ll find Heinlein’s All You Zombies and Asimov’s Nightfall, as well as Katherine Sparrow’s Pirate […]

  50. Vanilla Home says:

    The very warmest congratulations to you Steve!